[Monday Motivation] How this conservationist regenerated 100+ acres of barren land into a forest community

Varun Ravindra had always been passionate about conserving the environment and forests. So, he started Vanantara to revive over 100 acres of barren land and make it sustainable.

To quit a well-settled job and do something you are passionate about takes determination and a positive attitude.

That was something Varun Ravindra had.

A corporate employee, Varun, in the initial stages of his career, realised that he was interested in the environment and conservation. 

Deeply inspired by his father's passion for nature and compassion for animals, he began working on the family farm in 2009 – adding to the organic farming practices that his father had begun. 

“The dream always was to be able to help conserve the environment, create a habitat for a variety of life, and help alleviate ‘global warming’, which we now call the ‘climate change crisis’,” Varun tells SocialStory.

Around the same time, he started noticing several publicly owned lands (government-managed) being plundered and deforested, and felt that the safest and most powerful way to protect and reforest our land would be to have several conscientious citizens owning smaller portions of forested land, that collectively measured up to much more than the sum of its parts. 

Sunflowers grown at Vanantara

Thus, in 2016, he founded Vanantara by buying 100 acres of land (near the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu border) which now has over 40,000 trees across over 250 species of trees.

This was a few years after his father identified a few parcels of land that were overfarmed, barren and he purchased it along with his partners with an idea to regenerate it at a later stage.

Converting barren lands

“The idealist in me wants to offer the world a vision of a utopian community that not only lives in harmony with nature, but realises that we are a part of nature and the separation in our minds is essentially the root of why we are where we are,” Varun says. 

He wanted to offer “a safe adventure" to people who aspire to go down this path but are living lives that are too entrenched in the city to allow them to move on this path; alongside contributing to the larger movement of alleviating climate change and helping protect and nurture the planet's biodiversity.  

Varun says that he and the Vanantara team first forested the land, and then invited like-minded members to be part of this community and movement. Collectively, they created a forest ecosystem at Vanantara with size, scale, and benefits – that would not have been possible individually.

Today, Vanantara claims to be completely self-sufficient with the inputs on the farm. The area involves a nursery to raise young saplings and an animal barn.

Creating an ecosystem

The work at Vanantara primarily revolves around soil remediation and creating the right environment for a variety of biodiversity to thrive. After decades of heavy usage of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, most soils are now inert. 

The activities at Vanantara include composting, vermicomposting, preparation of fermented bio inputs such as jeevamrut, infusing soil with efficient microorganisms, and using foliar sprays that serve as growth enhancers.

Varun adds that the animals that reside at Vanantara help complete the loop by ensuring self-sustainability. None of the livestock is either milch or for slaughter; they graze and mow down the weeds while also providing farm yard manure. But most importantly, he says, they have a rightful place on those lands. 

A vast drip irrigation network has been set up over several kilometres to ensure sustained growth of the 40,000+ young trees by using water judiciously.

“At a community level, over the past three years, we have invited our community members to plant Miyawaki forests. Some trees in this specific forest stand at over 18 feet today. We have invited professional ornithologists and herpetologists to visit the space and conduct informal biodiversity audits,” Varun adds.

He says that in the last four years, his team has planted 40,000 trees at Vanantara as conventional afforestation, and another 40,000 trees across Miyawaki forests planted in Bengaluru.

“While there’s certainly a significant amount of effect we’ve had towards helping alleviate global warming, these forests have helped foster ecosystems that allow a variety of life to thrive, improved groundwater recharge, helped purify the air in those spaces, and informed and educated people about the benefits these spaces have for the planet and themselves,” he adds.

Impacting livelihoods

Vanantara also gave employment to several local farmers and is not subject to the increasingly erratic harvest cycles. These farmers continue to be free to tend their fields during the monsoons and work at Vanantara through the rest of the year, creating a sense of stability and giving more resilient livelihoods. 

Varun says it also attracted a slew of people who work in corporates and successful startups in Bengaluru, and who see their ownership of a part of Vanantara as a way for them to give back to the planet and a segway to a more connected life. 

While Varun and his team continue to plant at Vanantara, they are now also increasing their efforts to bring the community together. Through Vanantara, Varun envisions helping foster interactions to improve the collective good – not only within, but in the villages and the larger community around them. 

Edited by Kanishk Singh