We are already witnessing a major threat of climate change, air pollution, water crisis. We humans have harmed environment in a manner that it has become difficult to even breathe fresh air. It’s not that we were not warned, we are still being warned about the repercussions of taking away from nature but like we refused to believe earlier, we are in denial even now, which will eventually bring a sense of regret later. However, there are still some sections of society who believes in conserving their environment and it is because of such people that there is still hope to protect what we are ruining.

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This article is dedicated to Sandeep Saxena who is the man behind developing 6000+ acres of ‘Food-Forests’ in villages of Hoshangabad district, Madhya Pradesh.

The 44- year- old Sandeep is an alumnus of IIT-Kanpur and IIM-Lucknow. In 2006, Sandeep returned to India from the United States. He was employed at an MNC, and one aspect of his work involved researching the Indian economy.

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While he was doing his research on the subject that he realised the extent of the agrarian distress in our country. He realised that across the country, groundwater tables are depleting at a fast rate and forests are being chopped in the name of development. With the reduction of green cover, the effects of climate change become more pronounced which results in erratic rains and crop failure. Although it effects every section of the society, it is the farmers who suffer the most. Determined to work towards a solution, Sandeep quit his job in 2007 and founded Aranyaani to fulfill his mission. He studied the ecological conditions of different regions around India for nearly two years,  and finally came across the concept of ‘Food Forests’. Food forests are created naturally without exploiting any resources and as a matter of fact, even an existing forest can be restructured and a part of it can be used for human consumption without affecting its ecological balance. Sandeep traveled to MP to serve his purpose of Food Forests. He came across the rocky patches, that had been denuded for mining and were no longer good for agricultural purposes and it dawned upon him that these were once thriving forests. Sandeep took upon that as a challenge and converted those lands into food forests.

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The structure of Food Forests is such that first hardy trees like the banyan and peepal are planted in the centre of the land. Next, fruit-bearing trees are planted surrounding the centre trees. Then, bushes and vegetable shrubs  are planted between the enormous trees and fruit trees. Finally, on the outer circumference, lentils and legumes are planted. Notwithstanding the fact that shrubs are infamous among the farming community, Sandeep made use of them as they act as temperature controllers and moisture trapping plants for the roots of hardy saplings and rejected all the conventional methods of farming. One such instance is in his experiment with this process in his farm in Sohagpur. In 100 acres of land, the roots of the hardy plants were set after a year. In the following monsoon, other plants were planted.  He also grew medicinal plants like vetiver, neem and moringa. By the fourth year, they had a vibrant system—pleasant enough in the summer heat, with a small layer of biomass present. The plants would support each other in handling cold winters, heat and draining excess rainfall. Finally, it was time for the last layer, and they planted sweet potatoes,turmeric, coriander,  and other similar plants. In about four years, the land, which was rocky and barren, became a thriving food forest. “When the seeds are sown they are not tilled. Instead, they are wrapped in soil materials (soil, manure) are directly sown into the land. The benefit of this method is that it maintains the nitrogen cycle of the soil and its fertility,” says Sandeep.

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The best part about following Sandeep’s method is that the produce is entirely organic, and human intervention is limited. Everything that is not natural, like high-tech machinery, chemicals, artificial additives, hybrid seeds, and fertilisers, are avoided.

With conventional way of farming given high regards for so many years, it was not an easy task to break the norms. He took help from earthworms, microbes and snakes, honey bees, birds, and other animals!

While the earthworms replaced the millions of nano-JCB machines to keep the soil channels open, the bees helped in the fertilisation process.

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And, people believed what they saw! His 2,500-acre man-made forest, farmers started approaching Sandeep for help. The organisation started assisting them, and till now, 400 farmers from several villages have benefited from this exercise, and grown food forests on 4,000 plus acres of land. Ashok, one of the many farmers who is now reaping the benefits, says, “I was ignorant about the damage caused by chemicals and fearing that I would not produce enough supply, I would often resort to unnatural practices. The food forest has been a boon for me as people from far away regions come here to buy the natural produce. My income has increased by Rs 6,000, for every acre of land.”

It took four years for Sandeep to develop a full-fledged forest with over 175 types of trees and plants. The large trees continuously drip water, and this has helped in the formation of streams. In this manner, the flora and fauna have both been rejuvenated. “Our food forests provide shelter to several birds, bees and animals. Additionally, they also provide shelter to many birds, bees and animals. These forests in MP’s villages contain both organic and exotic produce.”, says Sandeep.

The damage that has been caused to the environment can only be repaired if we also serve our environment like Sandeep has, for drop by drop is the water pot filled.

You can also visit their website to know more.

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