Something exciting is underway at The Poomaale Collective in Coorg!
Dr. Shekhar Kolipaka, a biosocial scientist, is working with Beforest to help the estate contribute positively to local biodiversity conservation and innovatively integrate biodiversity conservation and economics for human well-being and nature preservation.
The Poomaale Biodiversity Assessment Project
As part of this, we called out for volunteers to help the team with field data collection for the Poomaale Biodiversity Assessment Project. In the first phase of the project, the goal is to systematically produce species lists. Mammals, Birds, Fish, butterflies, and Insects will be documented.
Over 90 enthusiastic folks responded to this! We’d have loved to have involved them all, but given practical considerations, Shekhar and team shortlisted about 10 and have started work on this project.
This started a couple of days ago at Poomaale. The teams have been oriented and trained in the basics, including use of equipment. They’re divided into sub-teams for data collection.
We’ve already found elephants, bison, river otters, the Giant Malabar Squirrel and a few species of birds that aren’t commonly seen in estates. This is looking promising, and we’re committed to documenting more and improving the habitat for wildlife over time.
Here’s some pics from the team.
At Beforest we do not start with a “layout plan”. It takes a lot more to build a robust, resilient landscape.
We start with some visits to the farm and understanding and connecting with the land, a shared intent, get a few seed members on board, kick off a discussion. And get the experts involved – the permaculture thinkers, the architects, the wildlife advisors – we get all the help we need for a given landscape so we can understand it in great depth, and make it better for the forest, for the food we want to grow there, and for all the people and creatures that live there and that we want to encourage to make it there home.
Mapping the Contours
To start with, a detailed digital contour survey maps is commissioned. This maps the entire property out at a granularity of 5m x 5m tiles, and in some bits even 1m x 1m. It’s critical to understand this in great depth, as this influences everything!
As part of this process, we also mark various points along the the boundaries, as well as all the bigger trees, identify major existing features – both natural and mad made – to try and get a good sense of how the property looks as a whole. For large landscapes of the sizes of our farms, this survey and understanding is an absolute must and forms the starting point for everything else that is planned ahead – water flows, pathways, homes and more.
Water Flows Are Key
Water is the key to life on the land, and managing it is one of the major and early focus areas of a lot of our interventions. Mapping all channels, rivers and the general flow of water across the landscape is an important step. The size, seasonality of channels, knowing the steep sections and keypoints, and then marking the riparian zone buffers all depend on the accuracy and level of detail of this study.
Broadly, we strive to capture water higher up using earthworks of various kinds, plant alongside to use the moisture, and to prevent erosion, and try not building in the water’s path.
Understanding Sunlight, Wind : Environment & Sector Study
The permaculture team spends time at the property to subdivide it into various parts, and understand how various forces – the sun, winds, fire, the wildlife around etc – interact with that space. A lot of decisions on where to grow and plant what depend on this understanding.
This is an ongoing process and as we spend more time at the farm, we understand more. We also try get members to understand this process to help them come up with a vision for various bits of the farm and get involve in long term decision making and improvements over time.
In farms where wildlife and forest conservation are a major focus (like at Poomaale, in Coorg), we also engage with wildlife experts to identify buffer zones, corridors and any specific rich habitat that we should stay away from for any work.
A Common Vocabulary For All Stakeholders
For large landscapes with varying terrain, it helps to split them into various parts and then label them. It helps to deal with understand each differently, and working on them is far less daunting than trying to look at the entire place together 🙂 The labels, shared with all stakeholders, help with a common understanding on the landscape, the plans and the various steps described earlier.
Planning Where To Build
Through elimination of no-go zones, forest, riparian buffers, wildlife buffers etc are eliminated. And then patches on preferred slopes, nearer access and views are picked, and candidates for clusters placed there. This is one reason we avoid building all over the place – the landscape’s needs are prioritized.
As the detailed understanding of the land emerges, the architects start identifying the most logical places to build on – those that have the least ecological impact, and the least operational footprint, while meeting the needs wrt views, ease of access, community, privacy, etc.
This entire process is amazing and helps us form a deeper bond with the land, and it’s context, weather, flora and fauna. We truly believe that our co-existence with all of these, and how well we adapt to them, defines our long term resilience as a farm, and indeed as a species that is part of this planet.
And Finally, The Whole
This one’s from the Tamarind valley Collective – where we have been through all the planning steps and the detailed plan is already in place. Of course, we study the land frequently and make tweaks as we go along, but this captures a lot of understanding of the landscape, the seasons, our aspirations there.
Important Announcements & Updates
Understanding Soil Health is Critical. We’re Happy To Help!
Volunteer Day @ The Tamarind Valley Collective
A lovely update from a 10 year old farm that worked out
We got covered in The Hindu Metroplus today!! It’s truly heartening to see the interest in sustainable farming and living go mainstream.
“According to the BeForest team, the core ideology of sustainability has taken a back seat in the interest of aggressive growth, which has resulted in urban centres being the primary drivers of the economy. It’s the toxic cycle we’ve become far too familiar with: the ever-increasing urban population vacuums natural resources from rural and peri-urban zones, rendering them degraded over time. In fact, this whole she-bang has brought about water and food security issues.”
The Question about Value and RoI
We get asked the ROI question on growing food a lot. On the value a farm will have in the future. Folks often confuse value with valuation.
When the market moves into anything – food, water, whatever – it tends to create real/perceived scarcity because in that is better economic value and price. Good ecosystems and food forests create abundance.
There’s no market in Tulsi, for instance. Most have a plant at home and we pluck and eat it.
Did that mean Tulsi has no value?
There was no market for Jamun and guava a fee decades ago either. They probably had better nutrition and value!
If everyone eventually grew their food, there would be no market for it, but a lot better value for everyone if they ate healthier and better.
Our “projects” are a function of you.
We identify interest in an area, or something that we feel is worth doing from an impact pov, and we start the conversation with folks who might be interested in becoming a seed group on it, and come up with a plan/concept/costs for the place.
It’s a “go” only when a min requisite number people have signed up, asked us many questions, even helped with the thought process to refine the concept.
We then start the permaculture studies at the place, as well as get the architects involved to arrive at the detailed plan of action, as well as the design. Again, this is all done in active collaboration with the community members and other stakeholders. The members also start work on framing the rule book for the governance and operations at the place (withing the framework of a few basic principles of the project, of course).
Our collectives are crowdfunded, crowd-sourced in the terms of ideas, effort, knowledge, even as we involve consultants and experts who are not only good at what they do, but also passionate about it and ready to drive us harder to do better, and as we manage the process to ensure continuity and success of a baseline set of goals.
It’s not always the smoothest, easiest way to create a place like this. But the outcomes are the best. The costs more optimal. And the coming together of a like-minded set of folks most satisfying for everyone.
If you’re interested in any of our current collectives, or have ideas for more where you live, do get in touch at email@example.com
We’d love to co-create a more sustainable, beautiful future with you.