Permaculture farming transforms degraded 7-acre land in Bangalore

Anything in excess is not good, not even farming. It has been observed that prolonged farming does more bad to the soil than good.

Here’s how.

Of the five factors needed for farming – air, water, soil, sunlight and nutrients in the soil – a farmer is heavily dependent on soil nutrients and availability of water for a good produce.

However, over a period of time, excess tilling of the soil, overuse of chemicals and irrigation without adequate drainage causes irreparable damage to the soil.  

Now, if the lost nutrients are not replenished, then the soil becomes unusable, producing poor yields. Thus the world started looking at sustainable farming as a solution that can prevent the loss of soil nutrients and conserve water too.

In a layman’s term, sustainable agriculture is an ecosystem approach to farming.

It has farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare is used. Additionally, it also promises excellent and healthy organic yields.

One such example of sustainable farming is permaculture farming - a zero-budget farming style that can help minimise farmers’ stress and struggle.

Permaculture, a term derived from permanent or sustainable agriculture, is being experimented all over the world across different climatic and geographic zones.

The Art of Living, which has been at the forefront of promoting and initiating several chemical-free farming, successfully demonstrated benefits of permaculture farming on a seven-acre land at its international center in Bengaluru, India.

Successful permaculture farming experiment at The Art of Living

The practice of permaculture, a method devised by professor Bill Mollison in Australia in the late 1970s, helps recharge the groundwater table, build soil from bio-waste, grow crops through multiple cropping, build garden beds and forests that also generate fodder, along with offering sustainable housing.

The highlight of permaculture practice is that it is done without irrigation or tilling to save fossil fuels.

“It is a design science that has three visions, earth care, people care, and future care,” said Venkatesh Dharmraj, a permaculture expert, who led the experiment at the Art of Living center.

Venkatesh wanted to study the subject and its benefits in details. When the Art of Living offered to support his study by offering him a seven-acre degraded land, Venkatesh, along with Brecht Deriemaeker and Nick Tittle as consultants from the Panya Project, began his study.

“It is designing and maintaining an agricultural land in such a way that it has the resilience, stability, and diversity of natural ecosystems. Its goal is to provide the needs of people in a sustainable way,” explained Venkatesh.

Over 90 days, Venkatesh and his team applied the 12 governing principles of permaculture. They dug swales on slopes for water harvesting, raised garden beds, grown fruit trees, and built a bamboo and mud hut.

The swales started filling up the nearby ponds, the gardens started yielding flowers, vegetables, and fodder, which are being supplied to the ashram, and the land already looks green.

“Now, the idea is to teach people and inspire them to take up permaculture to bring sustainable farming back to life,” said Venkatesh.

The importance of permaculture farming?

Permaculture farming is a flexible technique that can be practiced in different agricultural systems. It is best suited for a land where most of the constituents of ecological systems have died.

Permaculture brings back the balance in ecological system as the technique focuses on sustainable and productive farms and gardens. It can be best described as a system that follows traditional farming method, with features of organic farming, agro-forestry, sustainable development, and applied ecology. Sustainable farming, particularly permaculture, has been tagged as a guaranteed way to save the earth from further degradation.

Benefits of permaculture farming

Zero-cost water

Permaculture gardening and farming largely depend on rainwater or in some cases, even house waste water. These zero-cost water sources are tapped by earthworks like swales or canals. Permaculture also offers design solutions that can recharge groundwater.

More with less

A permaculture site uses fewer resources and produces optimum yields. This is made possible by natural resilience of a permaculture site. For instance, soil fertility is taken care of by intercropping and livestock manure instead of costly fertilizers. Similarly, water needs are met by natural earthworks and pests are kept at bay by nurturing their natural predators.

This one benefit of permaculture makes it extremely useful for struggling farmers.

Saves fossil fuels

Traditional farming uses fossil fuels for irrigation and manufacture of inorganic fertilizers. However, permaculture farming calls for zero usage of fossil fuels, making it especially useful during depleting fossil fuels. Also, no use of fossil fuels translates to no pollution.

Saves biodiversity

One of the benefits of permaculture is that it saves biodiversity. In traditional monoculture fields, only one plant is grown restricting diversity. Whereas in a permaculture site not only different kinds of plants are grown, there is a range of insect population that lives harmoniously.  

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Story Credit: The documentation team, Art of Living Bureau of Communication

Published: 2014