Saving environment: How a couple turned barren land into mini forest in Tamil Nadu
The couple’s effort resulted in water abundance in a village that struggled with shortage for generations.
An inspiring story on the regenerative power of land and how one retired couple turned a patch of barren land into a mini-forest.
Cuddalore: When Kasturi and her husband Bhaskaran retired from their government jobs, they headed back to Kasturi’s village in Cuddalore district, Tamil Nadu, to cultivate land that she had inherited from her father.
But there was a problem. “The village was dubbed “Chunnambu Moodu” or “land of limestones”. You would find limestone just 1.5 ft under the surface. The land was barren and practically good-for-nothing,” recalls Kasturi.
“There were only thorns, bushes and a few trees that were being used by locals for firewood. The soil, water and labour were problematic. Nothing could be cultivated,” she added.
But the gutsy couple refused to give up. They planted a few teak saplings. They promptly died. They dug borewells, brought high-capacity motor pumps and watered the land. The water was saline. Nothing would even sprout, let alone grow. They kept buying a few hundred saplings every month and planting them. All but a few survived.
“We heard one day that Isha Foundation 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,” says Kasturi.
The Turning Point
One day, the Isha nursery manager, having noticed how many teak saplings we were buying so often, advised us to plant a variety of saplings instead of just teak. He also offered to visit the land to give specific advice.
On his advice, the enterprising couple bought 5,000 saplings. “Isha volunteers visited our land and advised us to shift from chemical fertilizers to biomass manure to improve our sapling survival rate,” Kasturi explained.
Kasturi said that it was a revelation to them that fallen leaves could turn to invaluable mulch and restore the moisture of the soil. “They also advised us to go for inter-cropping (growing multiple species of plants in the same plot) to improve soil quality, and water and biomass usage. Inter-cropping would also give us income in the short-term before the trees reached maturity,” Kasturi further added.
Suddenly, the saplings started to look healthy and seemed eager to grow. “The whole land began to look different and so beautiful,” smiles Kasturi recollecting the scene with pleasure. Four years later, they had 50,000 trees in the small village –a mini-forest with over 30 tree species.
But that was not all. “Many years ago, my father had to abandon this land because the nearby well had dried up,” says Kasturi. He used pumps to try to extract water from deep down without success. A generation later, we managed to pump out water using high capacity motors, it turned out to be saline.”
But the “Forest of Chunnambu Moodu” transformed all this. “There is no shortage of water in the village anymore,” Kasturi said barely able to contain her joy. “These wonderful gifts of nature – these trees – have transformed the water situation in the entire village. We are water abundant even though it hasn’t rained adequately for the last couple of years,” she said.
Joy Shared is Joy Doubled
“I feel so wonderful to say that today, 70 families are living a dignified life from the bountifulness of this land,” says Kasturi. The generous couple decided to give small parcels of land at no charge to long-time loyal workers. “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. We provide saplings, fertilizers, and labor. They plant and nurture the saplings. They are free to intercrop with crops of their choice and keep the income from those crops. The trees are our long-term investment. Today, these farmers grow bengal gram and green gram as intercrops and make a decent income,” said Kasturi
A Land that Gives Endlessly
The trees have grown and don’t need much care. They regenerate after they are sold. Each tree will eventually be worth 15-20 thousand rupees when fully mature. Kasturi says the land value went up from Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 600,000 in four years. “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,” she said.
Date: 05 June 21