Someone once told me, “A farm is always 10 days away from starvation. But a forest never dies, come rain or fire”. To us, working on landscape restorations, that was empowering to hear. Forests, by definition, are self-sustaining systems, independent of external agents for critical inputs. For e.g. no one waters plants in a forest. They have healthy ‘spongy’ soil that stores water until the next monsoon.
The plant and predator diversity makes it almost impossible to wipe-out a forest with pest infestation. Simply put, a forest is like a bank account, with more deposits in the form of increasing diversity, than withdrawals from it. Sounds too good to be true? But we see this all around us. The abundant central Indian forests which inspired several books are a great example despite their rocky landscapes, huge temperature variations and frequent droughts.
At Beforest, we are deeply inspired by permaculture, which provide for food production to be designed on forest-like principles. Food forests are forests that provide ‘human food’. It is only after we started designing and setting up food forests, did we realise that single plant layer and not natural and this imbalance needed correction. Forests are naturally diverse, with plants interspersed across the landscape in layers. Roots, tubers, vines, shrubs, grasses and trees all grow in layers in the same space.
Over time, the ones that fit into the self-fulfilling cycle survive and those that don’t, die. We borrow from this concept and try and pair these layers through research and experiments until that much desired self-fulfilling cycle of life is created. Once established, we don’t worry about nutrition, pest attacks or varying climate cycles because that is factored in. Now the phenomenon of increasing bank balance takes over and enriches the soil eventually creating a perennial moisture cycle for the plants to survive. Since the produce is so varied, we are not as exposed to market vagaries, much like a diversified stock portfolio.
This is a constantly evolving concept. We don’t claim to know it all, but are humble enough to learn from new insights and revisit the drawing board to course correct. So when surprises come our way, we accept them as facts of nature – like the once in a decade downpour or the once in five years monsoon deficit. There is no point dissecting it. It is what it is – quite natural that way.
Designing a self-sustainable way of life is both an art and science. It requires expertise on all levels, be it ecological, social or financial aspect to make it resilient from both exogenous and endogenous blows. Every action has a lasting effect and a wrongly calibrated response can spiral down the system faster than expected. Sometimes, even a well-intended action might misfire if it does not fit in the whole scheme of things.
A very recent example is Sri-Lanka, a country with a population of 2.19 crores and largely dependent on tourism. With dwindling foreign reserves, the COVID period dealt a death blow to the economy. Shutting out International travellers reduced the country’s ability to meet foreign good purchases. To avoid a drain on their foreign exchange reserves, the government banned imports of fertilizers and pesticides.
The reason given was they wanted to turn organic. This resulted in a drastic fall in food production resulting in a supply – side inflationary shock. For a failing economy, there is nothing worse than supply – side inflation which easily spirals into Hyper-inflation. That’s what happened. Decisions taken in haste followed with counter – measures which were equally harmful and resulted in the country descending into chaos.
There are lessons to be learnt from the Sri-Lankan example. First, system designs should be robust enough to handle negative externality. Secondly, drastic changes in the critical working system (in case of Sri-Lanka, the food production) should be implemented slowly and only when your other engines are firing in full speed. Thirdly, always save for the future. Sri Lankans squandered their wealth on tax-cuts which unfortunately came at the wrong time of COVID. Hope our governments and system planners take a leaf from the book of Sri Lanka’s crises and avoid such mistakes.
When life gives you orchards, turn them into permaculture farms!
Our childhood summers were spent along Maharashtra’s Konkan coast. We looked forward to playing hide and seek in large houses, cricket in the fields and fishing by the creek at night. However the daily highlight was our share of alphonso mangoes, the ‘King of Fruits’, lovingly ripened in golden hay.
As the years went by, the number of people visiting the village shrank, houses resembled ‘khandars’, families running orchards were replaced by contractors and evening gossip by which chemical to spray to control ‘thrips’.
My quest to find solutions to these and such undefined questions led me to a Permaculture Design Certificate program, which opened a world of possibilities. Having inherited the orchards built by my folks over the last 40 years, it was my responsibility to take it further as an homage to their hard work and the space they lovingly created.
The diversity in the region began to disappear around the 80s with monocropping for financial security. This lead to an increase in pests and hence the use of chemicals. The generational passage of lands lead to smaller holdings, and with profits shrinking, many moved to cities.
The first step began with making a list of resources on the land, understanding its strengths, weaknesses, soil, water, wind and sun directions, a list of existing vegetation and more. These helped in putting together a base map and defining a design process.
To truly understand land, one must spend a year living on it, observing its behaviour across different seasons and studying its past. Fortunately we had a functioning revenue generating orchard, abundant rainfall, canopy cover, and signs of diversity. The challenges were sea winds that damaged foliage, laterite heavy soil that drained water in drier seasons.
We got working on each of these challenges and a few years later, the changes are visible. Once barren red earth, now shows luscious shades of green, with layers of fresh soil, thick earthworms, a variety of vegetation and the ground holding water instead of streams washing away topsoil. The mango trees have new companions in the form of young cashew plants, moringa, karwanda and turmeric, all suited for the region and serving various functions from soil enrichment, naturally breaking rocks and as wind barriers. Permaculture is an ever evolving process and there is a long way to go, but I’m at it.
Growing vegetables in areas of heavy rainfall has been a challenge usually taken up using glass and poly houses. We are trying a similar, but more open mix with farm yard waste. With the top protected from the rain, while it’s reducing direct sunlight, the staff on ground have come up with a permanent bed structure confined with spare fibre sheets from the farm. It’s difficult to tell how well the plants will grow but they’ve sprouted and are well for now.
Like the shed for the permanent vegetable beds, the vermicompost units have been made using the same material for the structure. A blend of leaves and twigs with cow dung and worms. These are early stages, but we are hoping for the best
Before we begin food production at the Hyderabad collective, we want to give the soil some nutrition by growing nitrogen fixing plants as cover crops. These plants have roots with small bulbs that are the home to bacteria that help in the breakdown of nitrogen into more accessible compounds for the plants to use, like ammonia. After growing them for 45 days, they will be mixed into the soil, thus providing the next set of food crops accessible nutrition from the soil.
A newly built check dam, one of the 20 odd built this season, has transformed its surroundings. Although the water stays for a few days after the rain at this point, it is still valuable for keeping the soil moist and how easily it changes the microclimate around it!
We recently found that a check dam on the ridge was forming a pond. It has now been dug and packed with stone, to expand its holding capacity. As it holds water for longer periods of time, this could potentially be a walking spot around a small pond park. We may also be able to draw out water from here for activities like small construction and for irrigation purposes.
The rains over the last 2 weeks have been the highest in 30 years. The term ‘City of Lakes’ has been reinforced with the overflowing of all the 30 lakes across the city.
We have identified some beautiful potential sites within a 30 km radius and are waiting to get started with the due diligence, the seed community being the blocker.
Among the 3 sites:
Site A – reminds us of Downton Abbey
Site B – a barren land that has been replenished to a water surplus
Site C – on the edge of Ratapani and in the heart of Tiger country.
We will mostly be kickstarting the collective by the 31st of August.
As they say, all good things take time. The city’s incessant rains of the last few weeks have slowed down the patchwork acquisition process at the Mumbai Collective. However, a contiguous 40-acre piece is most likely to be a reality by mid-August.
While a due diligence of the preferred site is already in progress, backup sites are also being negotiated on. Watch this space for more updates.
Water is the earth’s most abundant resource and you see it everywhere. Right from rain filled puddles to ponds, streams, rivers and lakes, eventually ending into the mighty seas and oceans.
No matter what the size of the water and water bodies, right from a droplet to larger bodies, they all hold fascinating stories.
The author with his breath-taking observational skills, teaches you to read water patterns anywhere water gathers. He helps you understand your surroundings and interpret the messages water offers to aid in everything from navigation to weather forecasting.
Who would have thought water would be so fascinating? We guarantee you that you’ll never look at water the same way after reading this book!
Tristan Gooley is a New York Times bestselling author and is the only living person to have both flown and sailed solo across the Atlantic. In his two decades of pioneering outdoor experience, he has led expeditions across five continents, climbed mountains in three and has participated in research among tribal peoples in some of the remotest regions on Earth.
If you’ve ever wondered what it would take to survive out in the wilderness, then this book is for you. Right from learning how to make cordage, to starting a fire from scratch, this book teaches you everything from how to make a bow, dig a solar still and have great fun while doing so.
This book not only discusses survival skills, but also presents the material in a manner that is conducive to practicality in the field. With several color photos for reference and an easy to use layout, this book is an absolute delight.
The author, Larry Dean Olsen has devoted a lifetime to learning and mastering outdoor survival skills. His concepts have been proven by the more than 10,000 students who have participated in his wilderness laboratories.
A hierarchy (from Greek: ἱεραρχία, hierarkhia, ‘rule of a high priest’, from hierarkhes, ‘president of sacred rites’) is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) that are represented as being “above”, “below”, or “at the same level as” one another.
In organizations, the word conjures up layers of people, through whom a person at the bottom of the rung has to sift through to gain access to the top. Perceptually it’s a challenging & time-consuming task. In the corporate world, a Triangular structure is the generally accepted model, though flat hierarchies also exist.
Where do flat Hierarchies work?
Start-ups, have smaller teams as compared to established companies. The founder is in an experimental mode. S/he has frequent impromptu brainstorming sessions with the team and the primary focus is on developing the go-to-market product. Flat hierarchies thrive in such a set-up and get the job done.
Why do we need Hierarchy levels in an Organisation?
Imagine an organization with 30-35 employees across departments, working in a flat hierarchy, with all of them reporting to the founder. In this scenario, the founder would not have enough time to spend with his/her sub-ordinates to manage day to day affairs, having to attend to other pressing issues. Without supervision, direction is lost and teams drift into oblivion. Inter-personal conflicts arise and ultimately work gets affected.
How does a structured Hierarchy assist the Organisation?
Organizations thrive on working efficiently. Hierarchies are created, based on expertise. Employees across various levels can then take decisions that fall within their purview, as they are responsible & accountable for their actions. Areas of ownership are well defined. Very clear delineation of duties are created for each employee. When all stakeholders are aligned to this model, it works like a well-oiled machine.
Hierarchies at Beforest : At the Corporate Office & at the Collective Farms
Beforest can no longer be referred to as a Start-up. With expertise in Head Counts, separate teams have been formally defined and assigned with responsibility and authority. Hence, we have Sales, Marketing, Finance, Accounts, HR & Administration at this juncture at the Corporate Office. Under Farm Operations in both Hyderabad & Coorg we have teams segregated into 3 broad departments, i.e. Nursery, Food Production & Livestock. It is our endeavor to serve our customers more efficiently and we believe this is one of the ways of reaching this goal.