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.