As forests disappear and climate change sets in, the land available for cultivation has reduced drastically in India and across the world.
In order to increase the productivity of crops, farmers are using chemical fertilisers to get better produce, not realising that these will gradually degrade the nature of the soil for future farming.
After looking at the way the natural fertility of the land was being destroyed, Sandeep Saxena, a chemical engineering graduate from IIT Kanpur and an IIM Lucknow alumnus, left his job and decided to do something about this. He says,
I was deeply stirred. I had an inner urge to find a solution to this since agriculture has always been the mainstay of the Indian economy, reports Efforts For Good.
In 2007, he founded an organisation called Aranyaani in Madhya Pradesh to raise ‘food forests’ on 2,500 acres of fallow lands. The organisation is also assisting farmers in the state to have their own food forest on approximately 4,000 acres of land.
Speaking about food forests, Saxena told Efforts For Good:
We are basically structuring a proper forest, but a sizeable part of it can come in use for human consumption, but only up to a certain limit that does not affect the ecological balance.
Creating food forests
During plantation, the soil is not tilled, and instead, seed balls, which are basically seed wrapped up in soil materials, are sown into the land. This helps in maintaining nitrogen cycle of the soil and its fertility.
To start with, Banyan and Peepal trees are planted in the centre of the selected land, which enhances the diversity and increases natural production. Further, fruit-bearing trees are planted radially around the central zone in between which vegetable shrubs and bushes are grown with others.
Smaller plants like lemon and cranberry are later planted in the open spaces, as they don’t grow tall enough to tangle with other plants. In the last stage, the outer circumference is sown with lentils and legumes.
Saxena has avoided using any chemicals or mechanical equipment in the food forest. Everything grows as per the natural forest ecosystem, he said.
Fruits and vegetables grown in these forests are not only sold in the local areas, but are also exported pan-India.
Impact on its surroundings
Speaking to Village Square he said,
These trees have the ability to absorb moisture from the air, and hence are better equipped to handle droughts. Trees like Neem and Mulberry make sure the temperature is moderate, even in extreme heat or cold weather.
The food forest also strengthens the soil and prevents flooding as the porous forest soil soaks up the water.
Since 2007, Saxena has been doing extensive research about preserving the natural ecosystem. According to him, it took nearly four to seven years to build each food forest, and now, it has over 175 species. This has not only helped to create an organic trend among people, but has also multiplied the farmers income in the region.
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