The Spotted Devil and Permaculture

I have never seen mum so happy to get back from a holiday and needing a holiday from a holiday.

She has been glued to her favorite soaps trying to catch up on what she missed, whatsapping her fav. people, having hot water showers and just putting her legs up.

Grandpa is busy strolling around our house with a wistful sigh at times. He misses the greenery and the cicadas and the sound of silence.

As for myself, I still can’t get over the fact that I actually managed to trace Gummalapur and be a part of this awesome experiment of giving back to nature what rightfully belongs to her, the forests!!

Meet Navzer and Shahnaz Kotawala, the sprightly, bubbly Parsi couple with ever-smiling faces and a warm hug to all their visitors who come to volunteer at their forest farm.

Navzer & Shahnaz An ex-Air Force officer, Navzer is the brain behind this venture, while Shahnaz is its heart.

Located nearly 54 kilometers away from Bangalore at the edge of the Thally Forest Reserve, Navzer and Shahnaz’s forest farm – Gowri Navadarshanam- is a part of the Navadarshanam campus and ideal for people who want to get away from it all.

The reward: you are away from any wisps of modern technology and right in the lap of nature. And you get to taste some yummy Parsi food, home made jams and pickles.

It is back to basics.

You learn to sleep listening to the sounds of the Cicada and the rustling of leaves.

There is no AC or fan. Phones don’t work and neither do laptops and i-pads. The farm is powered by solar energy.

You will not find leaky faucets here nor hot water taps. Every drop of water is precious. Rainwater harvesting is the main source and the farm is monsoon dependent.

Your day starts at 6 am or earlier if you want it to. You can help Navzer in his daily chores around the farm or help Shahnaz prepare the breakfast and clean up the garden.

Irrespective of what you opt for one thing is certain, this is an authentic experience.

The farm itself is spread over 6 acres, of which the couple has inhabited nearly 2 acres with their beautiful English-type cottage, with high ceilings, a huge kitchen, a well-appointed living room, a lovely loft, their sleeping quarters, a guest room and  a room stacked high with carton boxes, groceries and other precious items that makes surviving on this farm easier.

Thanks to Organic Terrace Gardening and Shankary I was fortunate to experience permaculture at close quarters and in a very small way contribute a wee bit to reforestation. Permaculture, a concept propounded by Bill Mollison, Sepp Holtzer and David Holmgren,  is a contraction of the word “permanent agriculture” or “permanent culture.” What Navzer and Shahnaz have tried in their forest farm is be true to the principles of permaculture. They grow their own food, conserve ecology and our precious natural resources.

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If you think it is easy, just think again.

Imagine having to look after poultry, milk cows, feed ducks, fend off poachers who try to lop off sandalwood and teak trees on the wilder part of your estate; lack of water due to 2+ years of bad monsoon means you create your own drip irrigation system, a system for rain water harvesting so your vegetable patch and fruit orchards receive enough water to give you tomatoes, broad beans, french beans, different types of limes, okra, cucumber, lettuces of different varieties, oranges, guavas, pomegranates, pumpkins, papayas, onions and herbs such as thyme, dil, basil, mint, coriander and curry leaves; wash vessels with the precious little water available; tap solar energy to cook and power the few equipments you have on the farm; wake up every morning irrespective of ill health and do all this with a single farm hand to help!!

Incredible, but true. And this is what Navzer and Shahnaz do. You can read more about this dedicated couple here.

They welcome volunteers to help. You can write to them at nfkothawala at gmail dot com or call 86757 88769 (handset) or 92436 04508 (fixed line).

EPILOGUE:

On my last day of the farm I took out ‘In The Jungle’ by Kenneth Anderson, an Indian born British writer who wrote about the Jungles of South India. I was deeply engrossed in Ghooming the jungles when I felt a tap on my shoulder and jumped.

The previous night, mum had said she saw two fiery greenish-gold eyes stare at her from the windows. I told her it must have been the family’s pet calico cat but secretly hoped it was either a leopard or a panther she may have seen.

Anyways recovering from the fright, I looked up to see Navzer standing with a smile, “Wait here, I have something to show you.” I was still trying to recover from the tap when he walks in, holds out a diary, points to an entry and asks, “Who do you think this is?”

In bold script was written the legend, Don Anderson.

I nearly fell off my chair.

The DON ANDERSON, actually stayed at their farm a few years back.

Don Anderson is Kenneth Anderson’s son and features very prominently in several of his stories. In fact, I had completed a chapter in which father and son go hunting a leopard. When I reveal this to Navzer, he smiles indulgently and asks, “Do you remember crossing Gummalapur?” “Of course, I do. How can I forget since you used it as a landmark to direct us to your farm.”

“Well,” he says, “This is the very Gummalapur where his story the Leopard of Gummalapur is set in. In fact, Devinakottai is located close by from here. ”

And to think I had pestered the members of the Kenneth Anderson Society to help with tracing the routes of all KA’s adventure, and here I had, inadvertently stumbled upon one of his maneaters!!!

The Maneater of Gummalapur: The Leopard of Gummalapur, also known as the Spotted Devil of Gummalapur was a maneater responsible for the deaths of 42 people in the villages of Gummalapur and Devarabetta in southern Karnataka. There is a wiki. KA was summoned by the District Magistrate to hunt down this leopard and he was successful in his third attempt.

While I was unable to go to Devinakottai since Bambubhai had to drive us back from Anekal and hates night time driving we plan to make it the next time. Watch out for a post devoted to the KA circuit soon……

Till then, Happy Ghooming 😉

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SAVE the FORESTS

Sharing here a heartening read from the ECONOMIST edition about man’s efforts to save green cover. And going by what is written, this is one time where it certainly isn’t a case of too little, too late. I know of a few unsung heroes who have initiated the GREEN movement in places they work. This is my tribute to you, and may your tribe increase.

The world’s lungs

There is hope for forests, but mankind needs to move faster if they are to be saved

THE summer dry-season, now drawing to an end, is when the Amazon rainforest gets cut and burned. The smoke this causes can often be seen from space. But not this year. Brazil’s deforestation rate has dropped astoundingly fast. In 2004 some 2.8m hectares (10,700 square miles) of the Amazon were razed; last year only around 750,000 hectares were.

This progress is not isolated. Many of the world’s biggest clearers of trees have started to hug them. Over the past decade, the UN records, nearly 8m hectares of forest a year were allowed to re-grow or were planted anew. This was mostly in richer places, such as North America and in Europe, where dwindling rural populations have taken the pressure off forestland. But a couple of big poorer countries, notably China, have launched huge tree-planting schemes in a bid to prevent deforestation-related environmental disasters. Even in tropical countries, where most deforestation takes place, Brazil is not alone in becoming more reluctant to chop down trees.

The progress made in recent years shows that mankind is not doomed to strip the planet of its forest cover. But the transition from tree-chopper to tree-hugger is not happening fast enough. Over the past decade, according to UN figures, around 13m hectares of forestland—an area the size of England—was converted each year to other uses, mostly agriculture. If the world is to keep the protective covering that helps it breathe, waters its crops, keeps it cool and nurtures its biodiversity, it is going to have to move fast (see our special report this week).

A bad old habit

For at least 10,000 years, since the ice last retreated and forests took back the earth, people have destroyed them. In medieval Europe an exploding population and hard-working monks put paid to perhaps half its temperate oak and beech woods—mostly, as is usually the case, to clear space for crops. Some 100m hectares of America’s forests went in the 19th century, in an arboreal slaughter similarly reinforced by a belief in the godliness of thus “improving” the land. That spirit survives. It is no coincidence that George Bush junior, one of America’s more god-fearing presidents, relaxed by clearing brush.

In most rich countries the pressure on forests has eased; but in many tropical ones—home to around half the remaining forest, including the planet’s green rainforest girdle—the demand for land is increasing as populations rise. In Congo, which has more rainforest than any country except Brazil, the clearance is mostly driven by smallholders, whose number is about to double. Rising global demand for food and biofuels adds even more to the heat. So will climate change. That may already be happening in Canada, where recent warm winters have unleashed a plague of bark beetles, and in Australia, whose forests have been devastated by drought and forest fires.

Clearing forests may enrich those who are doing it, but over the long run it impoverishes the planet as a whole. Rainforests are an important prop to continental water-cycles. Losing the Amazon rainforest could reduce rainfall across the Americas, with potentially dire consequences for farmers as far away as Texas. By regulating run-off, trees help guarantee water-supplies and prevent natural disasters, like landslides and floods. Losing the rainforest would mean losing millions of species; forests contain 80% of terrestrial biodiversity. And for those concerned about the probable effects of climate change, forests contain twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, in plant-matter and the soils they cover, and when they are razed and their soils disturbed most is emitted. If the Amazon went up in smoke—a scenario which a bit more clearance and a bit more warming makes conceivable—it would spew out more than a decade’s worth of fossil-fuel emissions.

REDDy, steady, grow

Economic development both causes deforestation and slows it. In the early stages of development people destroy forests for a meagre living. Globalisation is speeding up the process by boosting the demand for agricultural goods produced in tropical countries. At the same time, as people in emerging countries become more prosperous, they start thinking about issues beyond their family’s welfare; their governments begin to pass and slowly enforce laws to conserve the environment. Trade can also allow the greener concerns of rich-world consumers to influence developing-world producers.

The transition from clearing to protecting, however, is occurring too slowly. The main international effort to speed it up is an idea known as REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which pays people in developing countries to leave trees standing. This is not an outlandish concept. It is increasingly common for governments and companies to pay for forest and other ecosystem services. To protect its watershed, New York pays farmers in the Catskills not to develop their land. REDD schemes aspire to do this on a much larger scale. The only notable success of the Copenhagen climate-change conference last year was a commitment to pursue them. Half a dozen rich countries, including Norway, America and Britain, have promised $4.5 billion for starters.

The difficulties are immense. REDD projects will be effective only in places where the government sort-of works, and the tropical countries with the most important forests include some of the world’s worst-run places. Even in countries with functioning states, some of the money is bound to be stolen. Yet with sufficient attention to monitoring, verification and, crucially, making sure the cash goes to the people who can actually protect the forest, REDD could work. That will cost much more than has so far been pledged. The most obvious source of extra cash is the carbon market, or preferably a carbon tax. Since saving forests is often the cheapest way to tackle carbon emissions, funding it this way makes sense.

With global climate-change negotiations foundering, the prospects of raising cash for REDD that way look poor. But the money must be found from somewhere. Without a serious effort to solve this problem, the risk from climate change will be vastly increased and the planet will lose one of its most valuable, and most beautiful, assets. That would be a tragedy.