When I open the newspapers every morning, I see at least half a dozen ads for ‘green ventures’ using buzzwords like eco-friendly, sustainable, water harvesting etc. An example of this was a resort near Ramnagar, Corbett National Park, whose idea of sustainability was to build the entire resort inside a giant, brown synthetic cave.
When we started Beforest, a simple description of what we wanted to do was create a food, water and power secure sustainable landscape. This was before we realised we were participating in the jargon wars taking place in the real estate sector (we hate identifying ourselves with this space but unfortunately, are often generalized into it). Obviously, our audience also kept comparing us to real estate and other ‘farm-plot’ projects, which made this post necessary.
Sustainability to us is not a buzz word. Its measurable to a great extent. How much you impact your surroundings can boil down to a few numbers. Whether our farming method is degrading the soil or not can be expressed as soil carbon content. Whether our activities are disturbing local wildlife or not can be expressed by a simple bird count. For us, sustainability is a concept we closely monitor using metrics. Based on those we adapt our processes, considering ourselves as students and nature, our teacher. We tweak and adapt our approach, based on the responses we see.
We use quantitative methods to monitor our growth as a forest. According to us, a forest system needs to be completely self-sustaining i.e. we don’t even supply water or organic manure to the system. If it manages to thrive despite that, then it’s a forest system. Among many factors that allow a forest system to survive is the high amounts of soil carbon content – typically around 3-4% by weight. A farm land, even the ‘fertile’ ones, would be somewhere close to 0.3%. That’s a 10x degradation over time. Our target is to get to 4% soil carbon before we can call ourselves a food forest. By identifying measurable goals like this, our journey is checkpointed and benchmarked, enabling us to clearly identify the methods that are working for us.
While it is tough to communicate the uniqueness of our approach in a one-liner, the audience that has bought into our vision and backed us has been a huge inspiration for us. Validation always helps. It’s time to get to work now