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Aranya Agricultural Alternatives:

Championing Ecological Farming Through Permaculture

By: Ridwan Sifat

· Asia,Agriculture,Social Entrep

Permaculture is an innovative framework of agricultural and social design principles, creating sustainable ways of living for both rural and urban areas. It is centered around utilizing the characteristics observed in a natural ecosystem.

This holistic design maximizes benefits for ecological vitality, biodiversity, climate remediation, public health, and livelihood sustainability. Today, it is being used in over 120 countries.

Aranya Agricultural Alternatives, a Non-Governmental Organization based in India, is an example of a group who uses permaculture practices for almost two decades now. They provide alternative solutions to present conventional and chemical agricultural practices.

It started with permaculture practitioners Padma and Narsanna Koppula. They were working with Deccan Development Society, an NGO in Medak district in Telangana, India, that works on various programs that help local farmers. That's where Narsanna learned from Dr. Venkat and Bill Mollison, who is among the people who coined the term permaculture.

Narsanna attended the first Permaculture Design Course conducted in India. After learning about the philosophy and relevance of permaculture, in 1999, together with Padma, they decided to start their organization.

Aranya’s operation observes the three ethics of Permaculture: earth care, people care, and fair share. The best part about Permaculture is that it is a toolbox that empowers those who are interested and invested in the regenerative process. It is regenerative because it is one step ahead of sustainability as it involves improving soil health, biodiversity and animal-human symbiosis; growing healthy, nutritious, native food; conserving natural resources; and building stronger communities.

Aranya’s Activities

Aranya Agriculture Alternatives’ main vision is to achieve ecological and sustainable agricultural livelihoods through permaculture farming practices for a greener world. They have been working at the grassroots level with the farmers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, India since their inception. They have helped more than 10 Lakh farmers’ and promoted the adoption of permaculture in various villages and communities. They've also worked with government agencies to support projects related to natural resource management.

Aranya also runs Permaculture Patashala, an internship program designed to educate urban and rural citizens. They offer a 13-day course where people learn to apply permaculture in their setting and hold workshops on natural resource management.

Challenges

While it is encouraging to see more and more people both from rural and urban areas coming forward to learn more about permaculture, Aranya hopes that it doesn't get tangled in the commercial race. They don’t want permaculture to become a buzzword because people might start abusing its philosophy and principles. Permaculturists needed to be committed to the tenets of permaculture.

The other challenge they fear is the dichotomy between economics and environment. Permaculture is not for people who want to be a commercial success. It's a way of living and how people quantify its advantages such as food safety and it being a local product. One can't bring monetary gains in this context. The gains are more geared towards individual health which they believe are life-saving and life-enhancing.

Sponsors and Partners

The state governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh are focusing on sustainability in various aspects - livestock, farming, and natural resource management. Aranya is partnering with them in the implementation of these projects through offering technical guidance. Besides this, Aranya is also working with government agencies on projects like harvesting rainwater, developing orchards, and promoting diversified cropping systems. They have also partnered with institutions and NGOs to make permaculture reach as many places as possible and at various levels. So far, their partnerships have been with Maharana Pratap University, NABARD, JAGRUTHI.

Hopes for the Future

In its long-running program, Aranya Agricultural Alternatives sees how permaculture changed people who practice it especially the farmers. They hope that more and more rural farmers adopt it, understand its advantages, and reap its benefits. On the other hand, the urban citizens should also start taking steps and do things like growing more local trees, growing their own food, harvesting water, and composting. These are just examples of small, first steps one can do in practicing permaculture which are highly achievable.

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