World Environment Day: The Bounty of a Barren Land
This amazing story of a retired couple who raised a mini-forest on a barren piece of land out of sheer determination and commitment is incredibly inspiring. Find out how they managed the seemingly-impossible.
Kasturi, a retired principal from Pallayapatnam village, Cuddalore district shares her fascinating saga*
When my husband retired after 33 years in the Tamil Nadu Electricity Board, we were left with an emptiness in our lives. We were wondering how we could keep ourselves occupied with some activity that would be fulfilling, and of course not involve too much physical effort for our age.
Since we both were retired from government jobs and were getting reasonable pensions, earning for a living was not a consideration. So, after some contemplation, we excitedly chose to go back to our roots and decided to cultivate the barren land that I had inherited from my father a few years ago.
But There Was a Problem!
The land was barren and practically good-for-nothing. There were only thorns, bushes and a few trees that were being used by locals for their firewood requirements. The soil was problematic, water was problematic and labor was problematic. The village was unofficially known as Chunnambu Moodu, which means “land full of lime stones underground”. You would find limestone just 1.5 ft under the surface. Nothing could be harvested in such a land.
Never Give Up!
However, we were determined to cultivate the land. With a lot of effort, we planted a few teak trees. We used high-capacity motor pumps and watered the land with bore wells. But the water turned out to be saline. It was a real challenge to make anything sprout.
As we struggled on, my husband came across a talk where Sadhguru spoke about how planting even one big tree can change many things in your life – at least you can enjoy its shade all your life. This motivated us to keep going.
Every month, we would plant a few hundred saplings, but only a few would survive. Many of the villagers mocked us, others shared their concern about our futile efforts, and a few others came forward to help us. But nothing seemed to work on this land. Even the government agricultural department told us we were wasting our time and resources. But we were not to be deterred.
The Miracle of Mother Earth Unleashed
Isha’s Project GreenHands (PGH) had started a nursery nearby and we started purchasing saplings from them as they were cheap and of good quality. Though the survival rate of the saplings improved, still nothing very significant was happening.
One day, the PGH nursery manager, having noticed how many teak saplings we were buying every so often, advised us to plant a variety of saplings instead of just teak. He also offered to visit our land to give specific advice.
After his visit, on PGH’s advice, we bought 5000 saplings in 2012. A few Isha volunteers also visited our land to see how we could improve our sapling survival rate. On their advice, we shifted from chemical fertilizers to biomass manure. It was a revelation that we could use fallen leaves as mulch to restore the moisture of the soil. They also advised us to go for intercropping (growing multiple species of plants in the same plot) to improve soil quality, and water and biomass usage. Intercropping would also give some income in the short-term, before the trees reached maturity, an Isha PGH volunteer had suggested.
This was the turning point for our land. The saplings started to look healthy and seemed eager to grow into trees. The whole land began to look different and so beautiful. People from our village would come to see this in wonder, though still skeptical if these budding trees would really grow to their full height. However, today, four years from then, we have 50,000 trees in this small village – it is like a mini forest with over 30 tree species of 10-30 feet height. We hadn’t even heard of these varieties before! It is overwhelming when we think about it, and Isha has definitely played a key role in making it happen.
A Natural Insurance Policy
In my experience, growing trees is like having a high yielding insurance policy with amazing bonuses included. First, let me talk about the bonuses!
A Lovely Way to Share the Dividends
Since we both are too old to take care of the entire 75 acres, we gave 5-10 acres to a few workers and relatives who were working with us for a long time. We give them the saplings, bearing all cost of saplings, fertilizers, and labor. They plant these saplings, water the area and protect the land from pests and cattle. The farmers are free to use the land for growing intercrops of their choice and keep the income from those crops. Today, these farmers grow bengal gram and green gram as intercrops and make a decent income. I feel so wonderful to say that today, 70 families are living a dignified life from the bountifulness of this land.
An End to Water Problems
Another heartwarming effect is that there is no shortage of water in the village anymore, and water salinity has also lowered considerably. Many years ago, my father had to abandon this land because the nearby well had dried up. He used many pumps to pull water from deep down but without success. About 15 years ago, when we managed to pump out water using high capacity motors, it turned out to be saline. However, because of the trees – these wonderful gifts of nature – these trees, the water situation has changed in the entire village. Water can be found easily even though it hasn’t rained adequately for the last couple of years.
And finally, for us, the trees have grown to a point where they do not need much care even after we harvest and have them grow again. Each tree will eventually be worth 15-20 thousand rupees, and will be ready for harvesting again in 2-3 years. The land’s value has gone up from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 600,000 in the last four years. And, most importantly, we feel so joyful looking at these trees whenever we visit the farm. Even in hot summer, it is so wonderfully cool to sit under their shade. We are planning to replicate this model in my husband’s hometown, Pallayapatnam.
Isha’s Helping Hand
Isha volunteers still visit us every 3 months, and encourage us to involve more villagers in this effort. We do not know Sadhguru personally, but our contact with the Isha volunteers has been sufficient for us to realize the immensity of Sadhguru’s work in making life better for farmers.
Expressions from the Extended Family
Some of the 70 families that support and are supported by this couple tell us about their experience.
Panchali, an orphan who has worked on the land since Kasturi and her husband began their “adventure”, says, “One day, many years ago, Kasturi amma gave me a hundred rupees and this land, and said, ‘Panchali, take care of this land. It will make sure you live with pride. Don’t think what will grow, what will not grow – simply work.’ And today, I am married and my entire family lives off this land. I cannot explain how hard my life was earlier. I had not imagined I would ever live like so well in my life.”
N. Ramamurthy from Sirugramam, who has also been given some land for intercropping says, “We are indebted to Kasturi amma and Bhaskar appa for helping us live well. They are like Shiva and Parvati for us. Since they give us labor pay also, we are able to employ many people for weeding, watering, etc., and make good money.”
Other families also had something fairly similar to share.
*The sharing has been translated from Tamil.