In the southwest of India, on the borders of Karnataka, the Bandipur Tiger Reserve is part of the largest protected area in southern India, supporting one of the biggest tiger populations in the world. It is home to over 200 villages around the periphery of the forest. Traditionally, villagers in the area farm and herd cattle; however, climate change induced erratic weather patterns have threatened the very fabric of rural life making rain-fed agriculture difficult, forcing grazing into the protected areas. These communities venture into the forest for their livelihood thereby creating wildlife conflict and risking their lives. The number of farmers, cowherds and shepherds attacked by tigers, leopards, elephants and wild boars is constantly on the rise.
Open Shell Farm, Yelachatti Village, Karnataka With Open Shell Farm, we began work in June 2014 on the ecological regeneration of about 2 hectares (5 acres) of degraded and eroded land located in the foothills of the Western Ghats in the rain shadow region receiving an average annual rainfall of about 600mm (24in). Much of the farmland in the area has been degraded through overgrazing, deforestation and consequent erosion, plummeting groundwater table, monocultures and indiscriminate chemical use that has polluted water bodies downstream.
Malvikaa Solanki, the founder of Swayyam, has been living on Open Shell Farm from the beginning, and has been directly involved in the transformation of the land as well as to building relationships with the local people. What started as open denuded land has become a host to over 5,000 saplings of more than 400 species of forest, fodder, timber, medicine and fruit trees. Now in its seventh year, Open Shell Farm is a buzzing food forest with many voluntary species of trees, grasses, bushes and wild edibles along with a multitude of earthworms, termites, bees, insects, reptiles, butterflies and other life forms. Open Shell Farm today is a demonstration and education site for social transformation through regenerative climate resilient design, that works towards enhancing harmonious and productive relationships that already exist in Nature. The farm produces over 70% of all its food needs for its residents that include varieties of millets, oilseeds, pulses and spices grown with multicropping between tree lined swales using alley cropping techniques and ploughing on contour using bullocks.
Efficient water management is integral to the design of Open Shell Farm. Our intensive broad-scale water harvesting systems of swales, ponds, silt traps, fruition pits and diversion drains initiated during the inception have kept soil erosion in check, while reducing run off and aiding the hydration of the landscape. Swayyam’s 1000 Tree Project extends this initiative outside of the Open Shell Farm into the community by supporting small and marginal farmers to replicate and build upon the systems that have begun to work at Open Shell.
1000 Tree Project In 2016, a severe drought in the area caused the death of up to 80% of the livestock. Swayyam initiated the 1000 Tree Project in response to this crisis. Using permaculture and agroecology principles, the project applies regenerative i I n d u k u r i
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design strategy towards creating a systemic change in the area’s agriculture and co-creates productive landscapes by helping the farmers re-start productive work on their lands and protect their crops from wildlife and overgrazing. Tree saplings are carefully selected and a planting plan is prepared to ensure the right combinations based on the farmer’s choice, the soils, topography and climate which can provide a sustained income throughout the year.
Participants in the project are asked to organize themselves into collectives of a minimum of four farmers with at least one woman farmer holding together 10 or more contiguous acres. It is hoped that these farmers will be able to grow most of their food and fodder with trees and animal integrated systems, and selling the surplus. These agroforestry systems practised by the collectives are drought tolerant, encourage multiple yields, provide higher nutrition and better health, ensure food, fodder and seed security while enhancing biodiversity, creating wildlife habitat, preventing erosion, building soil health and recharging groundwater. Our goal is to organize safeguards for farmers’ lands with collective solar fencing, cooperative sharing and bartering of produce, tools and labour.
We started our first collective, ‘Vasudha’, with four farmer families and 4.9 hectares (12 acres) in 2017. We are now working with the second collective, ‘Suvarna’, with over 12 farmer families totalling 24 hectares (60 acres). With about 607 hectares (1,500 acres) of deforested and eroded land in the Gram panchayat, there is a huge potential to plant over 150,000 main trees (income generating fruit, timber, medicine, fibre and fodder) along with many support species totalling over 500,000 trees. This will create a significant impact on the entire watershed and the forest ecosystem, while enabling the farming communities, decreasing man-animal conflict, and reducing stress on the forest ecosystems. While we aim to enhance biodiversity, rebuild soil, reforest and manage our precious water, we cannot overlook the fact that the farmers need to generate income from this intervention.