Regenerating Barren Land
Millions of acres of arid, barren land could be regenerated into woodland and agricultural land. Auroville pioneers figured out how to regenerate land that was virtually desert in the long hot dry seas followed by a short, heavy monsoon period. Top soil had been washed away in the monsoon and blown away in the summer winds. Yet with trial-and-error, time and much dedication and patience, the lush green woodland that is now Auroville came to be. Their knowledge has been preserved in these videos so anyone anywhere in the world can follow their steps.
Bernard and his partner Deepika regenerated 8 acres of arid, pebble land in Auroville, South India, without bringing in any materials or using any labour. In this first short video, Bernard shares his first steps and how he started to bring life to this pebble desert through digging simple pits to create water retention. He talks about observing and connecting with the land, and the need for patience: that fully regenerated land doesn’t come overnight.
In this video, Bernard describes an easy, cost-free way of creating ground cover, and the pioneer plants that can start the process of land regeneration, and how to protect these plants from animal grazers.
Regenerating barren land can be done! Johnny shares how when he started in 1972, there was 1 km of hard, red barren land between Palmyra trees. He shares his first steps: knowing the soil type, and how to know which parts of the land are more fertile. Next is to retain water, preventing top soil run-off, and getting the water to sink down through horizontal bunds – swales.
Once the water retention is done, next step is to create the shade that forest trees need. In these near desert conditions, he started with trees that can handle the sun and drought to create the initial shade and top soil that in time could support a wider variety of trees. Johnny used a drought resistant, nitrogen fixing Australian acacia.
Major Arun Ambathy is a Special Forces veteran of the Indian army. Having learned from Auroville land regeneration pioneers, he has documented and formulated the main understanding and skills needed for land regenerated into a 2 year training, This video clarifies some basics, starting with distinguishing regeneration from restoration. He focuses on sinking water into the ground and maximizing biodiversity. He describes this as a ‘green yoga’ of restoring peace and harmony, harmonizing the consciousness of human beings with the workings of nature. This awareness of energy flow and symbiotic relations facilitates understanding the symbiosis between our existence and the natural world.
Major Arun Ambathy explains the cycle of desertification as plants, top soil, insects and microbes are lost, soil cracks and the life is sucked out. He then talks about the tricks for bringing life back through bringing the soil to a threshold of regeneration through imitating nature and protecting the land from human and animal pressures, water retention, building bunds and damns, decompressing soil. Discovering the reason for the degradation is key, which includes first mapping the many anthropocentric and weather pressures on the land, to then find ways of protecting and healing the land.
Bernard Part 3 – Soil Building 3:33
Bernard talks about how to build soil with no cost and no inputs from outside. He mentions the easiest vegetables to grow, the season to grow, how compost and irrigation systems are needed to grow outside the rainy season when soil is poor, and dispels a common myth about needing to flatten land for food growing
Lisbeth – Land Regeneration
Lisbeth shared how in the 70s she settled in Kottakarai, a village in the Auroville area. She learned from villagers how to grow grains and vegetables in that relatively fertile area, and plant thousands of trees over wide areas of barren arid land in a big drive to prevent what was left of Auroville’s top soil from being washed in the ocean.
She tells of digging a well and hand hauling buckets of water to fill a barrel on a bullock cart that brought water to irrigate the young saplings. She described how these young saplings were protected from grazing cattle through weaving bamboo to make tree-surrounds and fences. Lisbeth was a photographer. This video is illustrated by some of the precious few photos available from that time.