In 2014, Artists Project Earth – through Converging World – funded the reforestation project ‘Nadukuppam Forest’ in Southern India. This 35-acre area near Marakkanam on the east coast was a barren land of red earth before Joss Brooks and his team started planting Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest species and crops in 2003. To date, thousands of trees, shrubs and plants have shaped the area into a young Nadukuppam Forest.
While in India in January, Kenny Young and Ariadne Los of APE caught up with Joss Brooks of Pitchandikulam Forest, an environmental organization and community based in the green belt of Auroville, where Joss moved 40 years ago from Tasmania.
Artists Project Earth’s Visit to Nadukuppam and Auroville, India
The History of Auroville and the Surrounding Area
We were staying in Auroville, a universal township in the making for people from around the world. Its purpose is to realize human unity in diversity. It is recognized as the first and only international experiment in human unity and transformation of consciousness, also concerned with sustainable living and the future cultural, environmental, social and spiritual needs of mankind.
Auroville was founded in 1968 by Mira Alfassa – also known as The Mother – the spiritual collaborator of Sri Aurobindo, Indian nationalist, philosopher and developer of Integral Yoga.
India was a land of forests. Today these are nearly all gone and less than 12% of India’s land mass bears any form of tree cover.
Around 200 years ago, Auroville plateau and the surrounding area were covered in trees. A stone was discovered dating from 1750 depicting the local king hunting for elephants and tigers in the forests. In 1825 trees were felled to drive tigers away. The forest was further cut down to build cities like Pondicherry and towns like Kalapet. Timber was used for export. The last remaining 2000 mature neem trees were cut down in the 1950’s for boatbuilding purposes. In 200 years, the area changed from lush forest into an expanse of dry red earth, where the violent force of the monsoon carved gullies and ravines.
The Nadukuppam Forest and School
Joss took us out for a day to Nadukappam Forest, 30 km north of Auroville. We drove through villages with huts and temples, and through the wetlands, now mainly dry as it hadn’t rained for a long time.
We arrived at Nadukuppam secondary school, where we were greeted by smiling boys and girls in cream and maroon uniforms. Joss pointed out the only 2 trees that stood at either end of the school grounds before planting begun. Now over 2000 indigenous trees provide shade within the school grounds. The girls and their teachers showed us around the educational centre, a 2-storey building with posters, artwork and rows of labeled jars with seeds.
The indigenous plant nursery includes 72 species from the Tropical Dry Evergreen, and the organic vegetable garden produces food for the midday school meals. The children have also set up household organic vegetable gardens in five local villages. All these programs are maintained by students from the school’s Eco Club.
Nadukuppam Strengthening Communities
We passed a medicinal nursery next to the school where a small team of women in colourful sarees watered saplings in plastic tubes. Further on two women were planting nux vomica seeds. The Pitchandikulam organization empowers local women to become entrepreneurs, cultivating plants, seeds, fruit, herbs and herbal medicine and sell this back to the organization and other areas in India thereby making a better life for themselves and their families.
Continuing our walk into the wild, we passed rice paddies, peanut crops, lentil fields and water holes. Some were dug recently and some a couple of years ago but all held at the most a couple of feet of opaque pinkish mud coloured water. “I sometimes go swimming here. It’s very refreshing”, Joss said. Around the rim of the water holes were newly planted saplings and shrubs. In the dry midday heat three local men formed a watering chain gang with metal pots from the water to the plants. Despite the draught, planting goes on all the time and thousands of trees were put in the ground in the last month. “Dry times are even more reason to plant, almost to defy nature”, Joss explained. As a result watering is the largest part of the job. “I spent most of my life watering trees”.
Alongside the young TDEF forest, Nadukuppam is also a centre for many sustainable rural development activities in Tamil Nadu.
Through the organization’s ongoing work with students, women’s groups, farmers and the local village communities, it identified a need for a place where people could meet, take part in workshops and observe demonstrations of organic agricultural principles and environmentally sustainable practices.
To this end, a 2-acre plot of land adjacent to the NEEC was purchased in 2005 through the Kaliveli Environment Education Trust, and it has become a central part of the community where organic programs and ideas can be developed and implemented.
Activities in Nadukuppam include a Spirulina farm: four tanks were created for the organic production of spiral-shaped, nutrients-rich algae, to include the health drink program and to allow income generation for women’s self-help groups. It is their responsibility to monitor and prepare the spirulina, which malnourished students receive as a special highly nutritious drink supplement to encourage healthy minds and bodies.
Furthermore at Nadukuppam, there is a women’s centre where women can meet, participate in workshops, plan village development and coordinate their income generating programs.
Demonstration vegetable and medicinal plant gardens provide displays of organic farm principles and simple herbal health remedies.
An indigenous plant nursery contains 30000 seedlings of Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest varieties for use in plantation programs and nursery development and it also provides the basis for nursery training for women’s self help groups.
Project staff coordinate and monitor the various activities from wooden eco-offices and accommodation.
We had a short rest under a wooden gazebo with a view over the beautiful Nadukuppam Forest, before ending our interesting day with Joss.
Learn more about The Converging World, a UK charity operating between Bristol and India: www.theconvergingworld.org
For more information about Nadukuppam and Pitchandikulam, visit: http://www.pitchandikulamforest.org