Permaculture (from ‘Permanent Culture’) is “the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.” as defined by Bill Mollison, co-originator of this concept. I am increasingly attracted to the holistic permaculture framework – care for people, care for the earth and return your surpluses – and its many implementations around the world. The implementations within India seem to be few, and mostly around vegetable and fruit growing. Great start, though. Every new system needs time to take root in the local soil and conditions; and India has scores of environmental micro-systems and unique challenges in each. Permaculture seems to be well suited to India’s small-holding farms (FYI, the average farm size in India is subsistence – only slightly more than an acre per family), and our problems of food security as it is based on a family feeding itself a diversity of fruits, vegetables, other crops using natural principles. Mollison is also a provocative proponent of dropping wheat and rice from our diets seeing it uses energy to cook, and instead moving to eating equally nutritious fruits like banana, coconut, papaya; and nuts. A permaculture diet. Hmmm.
We need documented stories of successful implementation and practical guide books of farms in India (I mean farms that grow cereals, lentils, as well as fruits and vegetables) using these powerful permaculture principles that adopt to traditional peasant knowledge. As I study this – read, meet permaculturists, visit practicing sites – there is a lot that natural & pre-chemical traditional farming in India shares with permaculture, but the latter’s focus on food and plant diversity stands out.
Get a hold of Bill Mollison’s 1988 book “Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual”, it is the definitive book on this system. Here is some more reading I have been through:
New Agriculture a Permaculture point of view by Venkat. Very simple and illuminating. English. Venkat was the originator of Permaculture thinking in India, his disciple Narsanna Kopulla runs an NGO that works with Andhra farmers and is perhaps the only permaculture farm in India.
Essence of Permaculture, by co-founder David Holmgren
Other resources on Organic and Natural Farming
Bhaskar Save at Kalpavruksha, Gujarat
Navdanya is the leading Indian ” … network of seed keepers and organic producers spread across 17 states in India.” They do amazing stuff to protect our traditional farming and seed heritage. It is led by larger-than-life environmentalist Vandana Shiva, and we have bought organic home provisions from them since 2003.
Organic Farmers Association of India (OFAI). Based, of all places, in Sunny Goa. Indefatigable environmentalist activist Claude Alvares heads this institution; he edits the annual OFAI Organic Farming Handbook which is a loadstone of knowledge and information on organic farming from experts across India and the world. “The Other India Bookstore” in Mapusa, Goa has a range of books and other resources on organic farming that proved to be of help when I commenced my education on organic farming methods in 2012. Write to them, they are delightfully helpful.
I Say Organic: retails organic produce in the National Capital Region, on-line and they deliver home; and this includes what we have excess at Aman Bagh. It is managed by personable young entrepreneurs Ashmeet & Aakansha Kapoor.
2015-Oct-01 Rajinder Chaudhary Rohtak Kudrati Kheti Manual, in Hindi. This is a good effort to put together in one place of all that can be found on organic farming in India (from progressive organic farming practitioners in the West and South of India). You will need to create your own rhythm in operations and not do a bit of everything. This guide can easily be given to your farm hands to read – at least one member of your organic team should be educated till the 12th grade and be willing to learn. Educated people are super critical to enhancing your agricultural productivity, and should be open to change !
Sustainable Agricultural Practices 2013 by Green Foundation, Bangalore. English. Basic, and quite relevant to Indian conditions.
Tropical Vegetable Gardening Manual 2013. A useful base to build your vegetable garden. I have not found a well written base document on which to build my plan for vegetables at Aman Bagh, and this 85 page booklet (though written by an American) is surprisingly useful for some Indian conditions. It is simply written without jargon, unpretentious, and has lots of accurate and useful detail.
Indian Vegetable Sowing Chart. I used this as a base to create my own sowing chart to plant vegetables for each of the three seasons in Haryana: Rabi, Zayed, Kharif.
Organic Farming in Hindi this video by Rajiv Dixit on organic farming (in Hindi) is useful to explain the why and how of organic fertilizers and pesticides to Hindi vernacular farm hands. Just so you know, Dixit was a rabid right-wing Hindutva demagogue, and his YouTube video’s are a mix of virulent nationalism and imagined conspiracies. I dislike his views on almost all subjects other than this one, but I have something to learn from everyone.
What Farmers Really Need by Prem Singh & Johan D’hulster. Prem Singh (b. 1964) is founder of the Humane Agrarian Centre, Badokhar Khurd (Banda, UP). He is in search of co-existential methods of agriculture which sustains nature, soil and the environment. Johan D’hulster (b. 1955) is the founder and farmer of the organic vegetable farm Akelei (Schriek, Belgium). He is keenly interested in investigating various types of sustainable agricultural methods practised all over the world, including India.
http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/introduction-organic-natural-sustainable-agriculture-presentations-south-asia-conference: Here is an introduction to organic, natural, sustainable agriculture – Presentations from the South Asia Conference on “Outstanding Organic Agriculture Techniques”, Bangalore organised by OFAI (2009). Interesting.
June 2015 – natural farming knowledge from the USA
Organic Production Useful videos, Webinars and textual resources free on the Internet. “eXtension is an interactive learning environment delivering the best, most researched knowledge from the best land-grant university minds across America. eXtension connects knowledge consumers with knowledge providers – experts who know their subject matter inside out.”
Soil Fertility An excellent basic definition of soil fertility from the University of Minnesota, USA; and how to ensure it at your farm. It also has a very useful list (at the end of the article) of websites with information on organic crop production. Very useful.
http://rodaleinstitute.org/learn/webinars/soil-biology/ A very useful presentation on soil biology. “Covers the basics of soil biology, what it is “in there” and why it matters. Includes details on the carbon and nitrogen cycles and the soil food web. (Excellent for high school students, good for all audiences)” . Rodale is a leading organic farm in the USA for 60 years “For more than sixty years, we’ve been researching the best practices of organic agriculture and sharing our findings with farmers and scientists throughout the world, advocating for policies that support farmers, and educating consumers about how going organic is the healthiest option for people and the planet.”
Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) in the USA – this supported by the USDA, so not organic – but all farmers need to be educated, not matter from where the scientific backing to our sustainable beliefs come from. SARE has lots of very useful information on all aspects of farming specially on understanding and building healthy soils. The site has audio webinar recordings, many useful books and videos. Browse, and enjoy. example is http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Multimedia/American-Society-of-Agronomy-Cover-Crops-Webinar-Series/Cover-Crops-Soil-Health-Principles-and-Maximizing-Yields
YouTube eOrganic Video channel, with lots of videos on organic production. Lovely.
You can Google soil scientists Ray Archuleta (Agronomist, NRCS, USA) and Kris Nichols, Mark Liebig (both ARS, Mandan, North Dakota USA) and find many videos of them speaking on the why and how of healthy soils and microorganisms, and a ‘cocktail’ of cover crops and manuring to rebuild soil health. They see soil as an ecosystem, where billions of living being thrive – not simply a source of growing plants.
Agroforestry by Ernst Gotsch: Here are YouTube videos on this intrepid Swiss farmer who revived hundreds of acres of degraded forest land in Brazil through his unique method of ‘syntropic’ farming in the mid-1980s. Thanks to Patanjali Jha of Vaanya, MP for this stunning introduction to large scale thinking.
“Life in Syntropy” is a short film from ‘Agenda Gotsch” made specially to be presented at COP21 – Paris. This film put together some of the most remarkable experiences in Syntropic Agriculture, with brand new images and interviews.
“In mid-2007 we went to Bahia to see the work of the farmer and researcher Ernst Gotsch. The young man from Switzerland who believed that Brazil was the country of his dreams was established in an area of degraded land in the southern state the early 1980s. Since then began a systematic recovery of soil and vegetation. Today 30 years after his farm is considered one of the most fertile and biodiverse region. Ernst developed a method of planting and management that seeks to imitate the processes of natural succession of species occurring in forests. His goal, as well as natural environments is to increase the quantity and quality of life in all its forms. As a result we see what we call agroforestry, a system that combines agricultural crops and forest ecosystem bringing benefits pro and pro producer.”