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Growing a Food forest on Barren and Rocky lands

Posted by Sandeep Saxena on
Growing a Food forest on Barren and Rocky lands

In my journey, I encountered a myth that certain types of lands or lands with water were better for human consumption.


Nothing else could have been far from truth. It is a devilish thought that has turned naturally undulating and pristine lands, first into mechanized plains and then into poisonous dust-bowls.

As I traveled into interiors of Madhya Pradesh and saw the denuded rocky patches, denuded for mining and left as no good for agricultural purposes, it dawned to me that these were once thriving forests- giving life to small streams that flowed into large rivers.


Once a place for a happy tribal hamlet inside forests, now they were pictures of impoverished, subsistence living.  I took upon that as a challenge, i.e. to convert them into food forests that produce top quality foods.


The first challenge was to bring some life and biomass back to such barren landscapes. The first pawn in our army were the hardy shrubs- often cursed as bad across agri fields. These were Gajar ghas, Besharam, and lantana. We knew they would spring up even here, with a little assistance in monsoons.


Once they sprang, then lots of saplings of Peepal, neem, bel, etc very hardy plants, that could withstand and break rocks, were planted. The shrubs were going to act as temperature controllers and moisture trapping plants for the roots of these hardy saplings.  In addition, there would be a layer of biomass present on the surface.


It took one year for these hardy plants to set up their roots, and be settled for long term. I knew that in a radius of five feet, their roots would be busy finding ways and holding whatever biomass and solid comes around. So in second monsoon, the next set of tree saplings were planted that accelerated the rate of leaves dropping and biomass creation. These were planted just five feet from first set of saplings.


Once these became stable, in next year we came with smaller plants like lemon and cranberry. Toor pulse native breeds that are tall and used to rocky soil, were planted next to all saplings.  Then to accelerate the soil holding process, vetiver was planted everywhere in monsoons.


We had begun the process of breaking the ground underneath and creating soft soil on top.

By fourth year, we had a vibrant system- pleasant enough in summer heat, and with a small layer of biomass present. The plants would support each other in handling cold winters, heat and draining excess rainfall.  So it was time to try lowest layer of forests-  turmeric, dhania, and sweet potatoes, and similar plants.


The result is for all to see. In a quick span of about 4 years, absolute rocky and barren land was converted to thriving food forest.

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