We challenged conventional ecologic assumptions in the Ecology week of my 5-week Ecovillage Design Education Course (EDE) in Auroville, India. I became aware of the fact that we need to change the narrative of nature to a public responsibility, something like a community project on a global scale. The closed loops that nature presents should serve us as an example when it comes to waste management and the choices of material we use in the first place. Nature knows no waste. Humans invented plastic, created giant infrastructures for waste and water management and thereby deprives soil of the organic material it needs to strive.
Among the many things we discussed were sustainable energy solutions in Auroville and beyond, possibilities of constructing houses with natural materials like soil or bamboo and the community or volunteer involvement of reforestation projects.
We’ve been on the road for most of the week in Auroville and the surrounding bioregion in Tamil Nadu Province. In Auroville we visited the farm Auro Orchard that recently made the shift from industrial to organic farming, the volunteer-based reforestation project Sadhana Forest (which I volunteered at in Kenya), Solitude Farm which focuses on local permaculture gardens and foods as well as Sacret Groves and the Earth Institute which both experiment with alternative ways of constructing buildings and many more.
Half a day we spent on a beautiful and clean beach. As we are getting to know each other better in the group, some tricky situations and conflicts occurred. The weekly council in which everyone can share what is keeping one occupied helps glue the group together after certain issues.
- It is possible to re-cultivate a dead and desert-like land like the Loess Plateau in Sichuan, China into a lush and green landscape through clever water management.
- The World Bank sometimes really helps the world. It initiated the Loess Plateau regeneration project.
- States around the world interfere more and more in the world’s biodiversity by implementing seed policies that not only favour genetically modified seeds produced and patented by big corporations like Bayer/Monsanto but also make traditional seed swopping among farmers or hobby gardeners as well as the planting of “un-certified” lesser known regional produce illegal. Soon the food production in the world will heavily depend only on giant corporations whose seeds are good for only one harvest.
- It is possible to use human dung safely for food production. Since hormones and medicine are mostly excreted in the urine it is possible to use the stool. After a composting period of 6 months (in Southern India) no harmful elements are left. The dung from industrial cows, on the other hand, contains large amounts of antibiotics and other medicines that can enter the human food cycle through plants.
- If a farm turns from industrial to organic farming, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot of crop will be lost in the transition period as we learned in Auro Orchard, one of Auroville’s biggest farms. After long industrial farming, however, the soil is depleted. It can be restored by growing a clever mixture of other plants then used to grow in that spot.
- Energy-wise Auroville is self-sufficient. Sometimes, when windmills and solar panels create a surplus, Auroville can even feed clean electricity into the public grid.
- Traditional skills of raw earth constructions can be linked to modern architecture. This can empower people to build their own houses with earthen techniques. The Auroville Earth Institute is doing research on that and works with the results in many places around the world.
- Two people are enough to reforest an 8-acre land, as the couple working in Auroville’s Pebble Garden do.
- A small patch of forest in South India can have as many as 200 plants that are edible for humans (bark, roots, fruit, leafs).
- To reforest barren land you do not only need soil, dung, water and tree seedlings. Most importantly you need people to care for the trees, water them regularly and protect them from animals. Through this community involvement a part of the beach near Auroville was reforested, as initiated by the Pitchandikulam forest team.
- Local plants and “weed” can make delicious meals. Auroville’s Solitude Farm grows fruit, vegetables and herbs in its permaculture garden that local people sometimes regard as weed. This approach changes the concept of “weeds” completely and shows that traditional perceptions are not always rational.
- Water issues have made their way into arts and culture in Tamil Nadu: We watched a theatre play with the title “Water!” which had become quite popular in the region and beyond. It was based on a true story about a village that was dying out because people had to carry water from a well that was 5 km away. The government never helped the village, even though politicians who came to the village during election campaigns and when local people tried to help themselves by changing the local water infrastructure, the government immediately showed up to prohibit such actions.
- To understand how to construct a building or an arc, it is important to know how to destroy it. We built an arc out of earthen bricks and later jumped on it to see at which angles of pressure it collapses.