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.