The Forest Way
FILM: Reweaving Shiva's Robes
Arunachala slide show
John Button's tale 2016
Katkari Victory! 2016
Next Steps March 2016
AN APPEAL TO SAVE THE KATKARI : view a film about the Katkari
Project Arunachala in Tamil Nadu, South India, has been supported by RIC for the past decade. This afforestation and environmental regeneration project was initiated in 1988 by the initiative of Apeetha Arunagiri, an Australian woman who had been living for many years at the foot of the sacred but barren mountain of Arunachala.
Ms. Arunagiri contacted RIC with an outline of the situation, and a plea for support to the Annamalai Reforestation Society (ARS) which she established to regenerate the mountain to its former forested . In spite of the fact that the district is far from rainforest, being classified as semi-arid, the plea was so convincing that the decision to work with the project was taken.
After all, if there is no forest to provide for the needs of the population elsewhere, then the rainforests have no chance of survival. All is connected. After initial visits from a couple of RIC activists, John Button remained with the project for eight years to help co-ordinate the establishment of Project Arunachala.
While the longterm aim is to reforest Arunachala, if the surrounding area is not abundant enough to support the people, then all resources from the mountain would rapidly be exploited. So, apart from planting and seeding the barren slopes of Arunachala, the project has focussed on environmental education, establishment of nurseries, skills training and credit schemes in villages, the refurbishment of traditional gardens in the main temple.
This temple garden is now the largest in all of India. Also on temple lands, the Project has regenerated wastelands into productive food, fodder and timber forest. This demonstration has used techniques replicable by anyone, individual or community, regardless of wealth, and stands as a shining example of the potential for the regeneration into productivity of thousands of hectares of land now lying barren through inappropriate landuse.
Similarly, as a result of a donation of land by a visitor who was impressed by the achievements of the project, the ARS has developed a Permaculture Demonstration Farm and Educational Centre. This too, represents a dramatic example of the potential for transforming wasteland into productive farmland, and perfect situation for running courses and workshops to teach the principles that have made the transformation possible.
The practical proof of the success of Project Arunachala is that local volunteers have taken on the running of the ARS totally, and have secured adequate funding to maintain the main activities of the project from diverse local sources and from visitors to the sacred mountain. The RIC remains committed to sourcing support for the ARS where possible, and maintains a close relationship with the ongoing expansion of Project Arunachala.
ARUNACHALA - JOHN SEED'S VISIT (1996)
In 1996, Eshana and I visited two projects in India which RIC Projects has supported over the years. The first was the reforestation of Arunachala.
According to Hindu legend, there was once a meeting of the trinity of Gods at which Brahma and Vishnu complained to Shiva that the intensity of his manifestation (as a brilliant column of light stretching from infinity to infinity) was dazzling them, could He kindly moderate his appearance? He consented and henceforth materialized as Mount Arunachala, located near Tiruvanamalai, between Madras and Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, India.
Eight years ago, the Rainforest Information Centre received a letter from Apeetha Anuragiri, a nun at the Ramana Ashram located at the foot of the mountain. She wrote to us of the degradation of the sacred mountain. At the turn of the century when the great saint Ramana Maharshi had found enlightenment at Arunachala/Shiva, the mountain had been clothed in a great jungle and even tigers might be found walking on His flanks. Now, nought remained but thorns and goats. Each year, the monsoons trenched His sides with deeper erosion scars, couldn't someone do something?
Well, I had been deeply moved by Ramana Maharshi's teachings since reading his booklet "Who Am I?" in London in 1971, and was grateful for the opportunity to get involved. An Australian friend, John Button, a permaculture technician and tree planter and a devotee of Ramana's went over and for the last 6 years he has lived there and nurtured the formation and work of A.R.S. - the Annamalai Reforestation Society (1)
I was able to find funding for the project via the Australian government aid agency, AusAID, the Threshold Foundation and others.
In September this year, Eshana and I spent a week at Arunachala. We were so excited to see the barren mountainside coming to life. Because of the importance of this place to Hindu pilgrims, one of the largest temples in India is found at the foot of the mountain, parts of it dating from the 9th century. The temple is surrounded by two huge outer walls with a space about 50 metres wide between them. Six years ago, this space had been a stinking wasteland of rubble and garbage. Now, ARS has a vast tree nursery there employing some dozen people and growing hundreds of thousands of native trees annually for the mountain plantings and also for the government forestry department and for neighboring villagers. They also grow endless flowers for the Temple's pujas which ensures the cooperation and goodwill of the temple authorities.
On the mountain itself, as the monsoon was over, the main ARS activity while we were there was guarding the plantings, making sure that fires, goats and firewood collectors are kept away from the young trees. Once the rains begin, hundreds of people are employed planting trees and protecting them with rock fences where necessary and earth bunds to slow the passage of water and direct it to where it is needed.
We lived there with John Button (2) at the site of ARS's model permaculture project, miraculously turning 12 acres of desert into lush productivity. It was amazing to see this bouquet of green suddenly sprouting from the rocky desert. Many trainings and demonstrations in permaculture are held there and surrounding villagers are taught how sustainable land-use patterns can provide food, fuel, fodder, herbs and medicines in the process of the restoration of even severely degraded land.
In June 1996, Anja Light (3) who had been managing RIC Projects during my sabbatical, was able to get a grant of about $15,000 from AusAID to match a similar amount that RIC had raised privately in Australia for the work of ARS. This is to fund maintenance and protection of the plantings and the permaculture farm, for the running of courses and night school classes on sustainable agricultural methods, for printing educational materials and to initiate the development of a medicinal plants project on 25 acres of degraded land. What an honor to be associated with such exciting and important work.
(2). John Button is a teacher of permaculture and tree-grower who lives more than half of each year in southern India as an RIC volunteer. It was he who initiated the reforestation of Arunacha la and has worked alongside other Australian volunteers and the Anamalai Reforestation Society
(3). Anja Light has worked as a volunteer for RIC for over 10 years, working in Sarawak on behalf of the Penan, conducting roadshows in Japan and elsewhere. For two years she directed RIC's 3rd World conservation project work and has now handed it to John Seed during her rainforest roadshow of Japan.
ACADEMY OF DEVELOPMENT SCIENCES
JOHN SEED'S VISIT (1996)
The second project we visited in India was that run by the Academy of Development Sciences (ADS) (1) located near Kashele in the Karjat Tribal Block about 100 Km east of Bombay.
Although I've been in communication with Rajeev Khedkar, the tireless secretary of ADS for 7 years now and have been able to provide support via AusAID, US Foundations and my Council of All Beings workshop fees, September 96 was the first time that I've had a chance to visit and to see their work for myself.
ADS is an exemplary organisation. I have been particularly impressed by the well thought-out design of each of their projects, the selflessness and honor of the personnel and in particular their untiring devotion to the downtrodden tribal people of the Karjat Tribal Block. The Thakurs, Mahadev Kolis and Kadkaris constitute nearly 90% of the population here and they are among the poorest of the poor with next to no chance of improving their lot without outside help.
Rajeev Khedkar is a brilliant young bio-chemist who has been single-mindedly revitalizing the ancient Ayurvedic medical system and the other systems of traditional healing in India. The rural and tribal communities in India have traditionally used the plants growing in their surroundings to treat common ailments and also for many preventive purposes. Unfortunately this form of health care is declining due to habitat destruction by deforestation and the promotion of western methods of medicine. However the percentage of the population actually reached by westernized health services is reported to be 30% maximum and in some isolated areas it is as low as 3%. Therefore the importance of revitalizing the traditional medical system which makes use of local renewable resources and is practiced by community based healers cannot be overstated.
They have created a vast "gene-park" of over 160 species of ayurvedic healing plants, many of which have never been cultivated before which they propagate and distribute free to the local people who can't afford to pay for health care. Ninety-nine percent of these medicines are traditionally gathered from the wild and as the wild disappears, so do the medicines. As many of the medicines come from the root and bark of trees and vines, it is especially important to propagate these and distribute seedlings as gathering them results in the death of the wild plant.
ADS has made and distributed illustrated books for the tribals showing them how to grow the herbs and how to use them to treat common ailments. They arrange classes so that the old vaidus (healers and shamans) and midwives can meet with young apprentices so that their knowledge can be transmitted and they document the traditional knowledge of the tribal healers. They distribute at no cost hundreds of "kitchen garden medicine kits" - the seedlings of some 25 plants that prevent and treat common ailments like malaria and dysentry and others useful for first aid.
In one of his letters, Rajeev wrote: "The Indian system of medicine (Ayurveda) has a glorious tradition and it caters to the health care needs of the majority of rural population even today. The urban folks have become slaves of the Western system of medicine - Allopathy - to such an extent that traditional medicine has been completely ignored. The proliferating pharmaceutical companies and the total reliance on allopathy even by the policy makers has further jeopardised traditional medicine.
Being an oral tradition, Ayurveda needs periodic strengthening but the advent of allopathy has disturbed the entire system. Now-a-days, even the tribal people spend huge sums (by their standards) to get an "injection" instead of going to a folk healer. They think that an "injection" will cure all. Such is the misconception and it only encourages the millions of quacks operating in rural areas.
Traditional medicine has tremendous potential to meet the primary health care needs of the majority of population, yet it has been ignored in the National Health Policy. The Primary Health Care Centres in rural areas practicing allopathy are poorly managed and too few in numbers.
So access to health care is difficult for most people in rural areas. The resource base of traditional medicine is locally available flora and fauna and a sustainable utilization of these natural resources is necessary to ensure the availability of medicinal plants.
Traditional medicine also suffers due to unavailability of medicine plants to the rural people, and in this context our attempts to establish a Genebank of medicinal plants for conservation and educational purposes assumes significance.
The various components of this centre are: 1) a Genebank [garden] of medicinal plants for conservation and education purposes 2) a seed bank and a nursery to distribute seed/plantlets to local people 3) a tissue culture lab for rapid multiplication of plants needed in large quantities and prorogation of difficult to propagate and endangered medicinal plants. 4) a training and education centre for folk practitioners, village level health workers, students and interested laymen. 5) a documentation and communication centre.
I'm so glad to have got here and seen with my own eyes the incredible work that these folks are doing. As well as the medicinal plant work, their tree nurseries distribute over 200,000 seedlings a year including lots of grafted fruit trees; they run a free school for 100 of the tribal children with loving and gifted teachers; the industries they've created for the tribals include: a fruit processing plant that pays for wild fruits gathered and turns them into sauces, juices and chutneys; a craft co-operative for furniture, metalwork and construction for 40 tribal youth; they have fields conserving 350 traditional rice varieties scooped from the brink of extinction at the hands of the "green revolution" via the 2 species of hybrid being promoted by the government, World Bank and chemical industries. Every year farmers are encouraged to choose from among the traditional varieties and seed of the varieties of their choice is given to them free of charge.
RIC are committing ourselves to increasing our efforts to support this group.
Academy of Development Science
PO Kashele, Karjat Taluka
Maharashtra 410 201 India
Phone 91 - 2148 - 24007 / 24008
Fax : 91 - 2148 - 22479
LEGAL STATUS: ADS is a registered Public Trust and Charitable Society with a 7-member Board of Trustees. The Governing Council of Academy (an advisory body), Executive Committee consists of the project leaders of the various programs being implemented. This group is responsible for the day-to-day management.
LONG TERM ROLE : The Academy is being developed as a science, technology and development education training centre for village-level workers of rural social-action groups, environmental and healt organizations and other rural institutions interested in Science & Technology (S & T). Training in S & T related areas is the long-term focus of the Academy. Applied research carried out at the Academy is intended to develop people-oriented programs and to "feed in" the research experiences into its teaching programs. Grassroot action undertaken by ADS is confined to the villages of Karjat Tribal Block.
1. Traditional medicine and primary health care
2. Conservation of genetic resources
3. Village technologies for employment and self-reliance
4. Watershed development and sustainable agriculture.
5. Innovations in school education.
6. Local leadership and community based organizations.
Implementing agency - Academy of Development Science
Kashele Post, Karjat Taluka
Raigad District, Maharashtra 410 201
Phone 91 - 2148 - 24007 / 24008 Fax : 91 - 2148 - 22479
Bamboo craft was once common in this tribal area and a number of articles of day-to-day use (baskets, winnowing fans, grain storage structures, drying platforms, fish traps, crab traps, etc.) were made from bamboo. However, people of the younger generation have not made any efforts to learn the craft and today there are only a handful of artisans, most of them old, practising bamboo craft inthe Karjat Tribal Block. As a result, use of bamboo has declined considerably.
Bamboo has tremendous potential to reclaim wastelands and to provide gainful employment to tribal people who do not have any other employment opportunities. Good quality bamboo products can sell in the local as well international markets.
There is a need to revive bamboo craft by encouraging the younger generation to acquire skills from older artisans. Plantations of Mes bamboo also need to bepromoted in efforts to improve availability of raw material to artisans.
The proposal is to : a) facilitate training of five youth (2 male + 3 female) in bamboo craft from older artisans over a period of one year and b) promote plantations of Mes bamboo on 25 acres of land.
Use of teak and other hardwoods for furniture, etc. is one of the major causes of deforestation. It does provide employment to people but the approach is not sustainable in the long run. Most of the teak trees have already been exhausted from the forest and there is hardly any secondary growth of teak in the region.
A one year training programme on production of toys and other articles from softwoods is being proposed. Two youth will be trained by a master craftsman and the trainees will be subsequently helped to explore marketing linkages. Efforts will also be made to promote cultivation of softwoods around villages to improve availability of raw material.
Currently throughout the school year children from standards one to eight participate in an elective skill or craft programme. These now include book binding, wood work, educational toys from waste material, sewing, gardening and herbal medicines. A three year programme is forecast to expand these options to include bamboo craft, nursery techniques, embroidery and crochet, softwood crafts, handmade paper from surrounding biomass, paper recycling, fibre rope making, etc.
These activities will provide vocational and entrepreneurial skills to children. The money raised through sale of produce and products will be used to strengthen all after school activities and for organising educational tours for students, which are otherwise difficult to manage with the existing resources. Three subjects are forecast for this programme
Children will grow and harvest vegetables to sustain mess kitchen requirements. This will bring down the expenses incurred on buying vegetables from the outside market. Surplus vegetables will be sold by students locally. Children who cannot pay the full hostel fees will be encouraged to contribute to hostel expenses by way of 1-2 hours work in the vegetable plot and nursery. This will enable economically poor students to avail hostel facilities.
Children will be taught paper making and paper recycling. The handmade and recycled paper will be used for printing and designing greeting cards, wrapping paper and bags to be sold locally, nationally and internationally.
Presently there is only one hostel facility on ADS campus where 100 children reside. 90 of these are boys (standards one to ten) and 10 girls (standards one to three). As there is only mixed dormitory accommodation, older girls cannot be accommodated. This is also a major reason for the lopsided boys : girls ratio in the school. There is a serious need to remedy this situation.
In order to provide tribal girls an equal opportunity at education, ADS proposes the construction of a hostel to accommodate 50 tribal girls initially. As an incentive to tribal families, all food and accommodation expenses will be incurred by ADS. A full time female supervisor will need to be assigned and accommodated. These minor expenses will greatly enrich equal opportunity within this tribal area.
Currently the boys accommodation, mess and craft area are roofed with asbestos sheets, some of which are more than 10 years old. There is a need to replace/ renovate these structures to minimise exposure of children to asbestos. The proposal is to replace the asbestos roof of the crafts area with a tiled roof and to renovate the hostel and mess. It is not feasible to replace the roof of the hostel and mess since the excessive rainfall would require total reconstruction.
At present, both the mess kitchen and the Ayurvedic hospital use very inefficient wood fired stoves. In just one year these can consume about 170 cu.m. of hardwoods. The firewood is purchased by truck loads and these even contain small teak trees! Hence conversion from firewood to gas is essential.
The wood consumption of the dispensary and students hostel can be further reduced by introduction of solar water heaters. Students burn 50 cu.m. of wood over a 3 month period just to obtain hot water for bathing ! Another 20 cu.m. is used by the dispensary for medicine preparation. Solar water heaters make ecological sense.