Environment and Ecology

Peaceful Society’s concern with the environment was manifest very early in its existence. In 1984 itself, it hosted a meeting of Environmentalist from the South of India to examine the process of environmental degradation and the need for social protection of forests in particular and the environment in general, through mobilizing and involving local communities.

In 1985 it was the organizer of an Environmental Awareness Campaign in Goa. This was a weeklong program covering almost all the major centres in Goa. The presence of Shri Sunderlal Bahuguna of the Chipko movement helped to focus attention of the issue and create an awareness of the need for concerted and comprehensive action to protect the environment. As mentioned earlier, PS’s experience of the Vanvasi Sanghatan in Cotigaon had determined its own environmental objectives and approach and provided a strong motivation for an effective action programme. This took concrete shape in the Save The Western Ghats Movement in which PS played a key role

SWGM

The Save the Western Ghats Movement (SWGM) was a landmark event in environmental activism in India. It was one of the first of its kind in the country and became the model for numerous campaigns all over India.

In October 1986, PS organised a national consultation on environment, during which it was decided to organize a march along the entire length of the Western Ghats, to focus attention on the urgent need to halt the process of degradation that was threatening to create irremediable damage to the entire area. The goal was to create an integrated Ecological perspective providing for both environmental protection as well as the rights of the rural communities. Later, Peaceful Society was appointed the Coordinating Agency of the entire event as Central Coordinator.

Organizational Structure

The march had two Joint Coordinating Agencies, one for the Northern Districts, in Gujarat and most of the Western Maharashtra and another for the Southern states of Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

A National Advisory Committee was formed, with the renowned anthropologist, Prof. K.C. Malhotra as the Chairperson and with eminent persons in various related fields as members to provide support and advice.

The actual March planning and management was the responsibility of the Central Organising Committee with Kumar Kalanand Mani of Peaceful Society as Central Coordinator.

In the field there were the parallel regional structures for the Northern and the Southern stretches of the Ghats. There were two broad divisions, one the March Committee to look after the logistics of and during the march itself, the other the Field Committee which had overall charge of preparations and planning and of monitoring the activities of the various Regional and State Committees. Each of the States in turn had their own sub-committees to look after the different activities like environmental studies, mobilising communities, publicity etc.

All the committees were very active and shared responsibility with greater effectiveness. The scale of preparations was immense with compilation of data on various issues, surveys of ‘hot spots’, which were specially vulnerable or critical, articles and statements in the press, liaison with local organizations and institutions for active participation and support of various kinds.

Southern Marchers entering into Goa

Peaceful society played a leading role in this process of planning and mobilizing and was actively involved in

·         Ensuring government cooperation and support. (The Department of Environment, Govt. of India provided a grant for organizational expenses.)

·         Mobilizing action groups and NGOs for a broad based participation

·         Getting the support of Universities, academics and intellectuals and influential persons in the literary field.

·         Forming of the various committees as different levels.

·         Publicity and PR

·         Getting the support of Universities, academics and intellectuals and influential persons in the literary field.

·         Forming of the various committees as different levels.

·         Publicity and PR

·         Monitoring preparations for the March from Maharashtra to Tamil Nadu.

·         Monitoring the actual march logistics and trouble shooting during the March

·         Hosting the final meet at the end of the march.

The March: November 1987 – February 1987

The March was a 100 days event, which included 95 days of actual travel along the entire length of the Ghats plus 5 days of Conference and meetings in Goa. The march was in two teams, one starting from Navapur in the North and the other from Kanyakumari in the south. Representatives from over 160 Organizations and thousands of individuals participated in the march, the number sometimes swelling to several hundred at any one time for shorter stretches. There were over 600 meetings conducted during the course of the route

The marching teams and the associated meetings generated tremendous enthusiasm among all sections of people all along the route and the entire nation as well. The enthusiasm of youth and their eagerness to be involved was especially heartening. There was extensive media coverage not only in the local press but also on the national and even international level.

The enthusiasm in Goa itself, where the March was planned and finally culminated was even greater. Here there were 4 teams starting from each of the corners of the State and as they marched to the final meeting place, the Ramnathi in Bandora where Peaceful Society’s main office was located, there was a great sense of excitement and enthusiasm in the entire area.

All the teams converged on Bandora where there were three days of sharing of the participants followed by a 2-day conference on “ save the western Ghats”. The entire group of over 700 marchers then marched to Panjim for a final rally, where thousands more joined them.

The total expenses for the March was estimated at over Rs. 3 Crores but almost all of this was raised by the local committees and groups. The actual budget of the Central Organising Committee was of about Rs 4.8 lakhs, out of which Rs. 3.8 lakhs was a grant from the Department of the Environment of the Government of India. At the end of the march Rs 28,000 was returned as unspent!

A Lost Opportunity?

The SWGM was a landmark event in the environmental sector, on par with other key movements like the Chipko Movement and later on the Narmada Bachao Andolan. Even today it is hailed as a truly historic event and has been the inspiration and the model for many other similar movements and marches all over the country.

The immediate effects of the March were tremendous, with immense support generated all along the route march and elsewhere. The enthusiasm of the youth from all classes of society for the goals of the march was remarkable. Unfortunately, the movement was not able to effectively capitalize on this enthusiasm and translate it into a force for a more sustainable and comprehensive alternative development process rooted in the local environment and based on the active participation of the people. There was no effective follow-up because the participating agencies and individuals were not able to reach a consensus on an action plan.

With hindsight, PS feels that it could (and should) have played a more proactive role in the post march period. It did in fact propose a plan but was not able to swing the others behind it and in the interest of solidarity backed away from imposing its view, as might well have been possible. Even if the group as such was not willing to go along, it feels that it would have been able to implement the plan in some of the States at least.

The PS plan was to go back to the communities all along the march route with a three stage program for environmental change for the better while simultaneously building strong and effective people’s organizations to sustain the achievements of the march and post march development.

The first stage would be a massive afforestation program. This was a non-controversial agenda which would therefore be broadly acceptable to all, including the government and Forest Department Officials, and which would have great impact on the environment as well. At the same time, local groups would be empowered and trained to manage the plantations and also build capacity for micro planning to use the products for local needs.

At the end of two years, this would be presented to the government as an alternative model where local communities could manage (and fund) their own development process at the village or area level. And in three years this could become the basis for a local Self-governance Structure.

While these ideals could not be given reality after the SWGM, they nevertheless remained alive in PS activity through the next few years and finally found another ‘avatar’ in the Swaraj Movement. A key learning was the need to ensure that movement leadership was not with the “elite”, no matter how committed personally, but remained with the people at the ground level.

Impact of SWGM on PS

For a variety of reasons, if there was one event, which could be said to be the determining factor in PS’s history, it is undoubtedly the Save the Western Ghats March. The impact was both internally, on the future shape and direction of PS’s work as well as externally, in the opportunities for involvement and cooperation with other groups and organizations.

·         Awareness of Opportunity in people’s enthusiasm and readiness for sacrifice especially on the part of the youth. Though PS felt that it had lost a great opportunity in channelising the enthusiasm generated through the march, it made sure that this would not happen again and the effect of this is seen in the present major involvement of the Swaraj Movement.

·         Linkages with likeminded organizations in and out of Goa. PS had worked closely with local communities and numerous institutions all over the state and the relationships developed during the time of preparation and the march resulted in many fruitful joint ventures in the subsequent years. This was especially so with regard to environmental issues and the March generated both awareness of and enthusiasm to tackle related problems in Goa.

·         Realization of PS capability for organization,

·         Mobilizing people and linking with other organizations. PS had played a leading role in the march preparation and the actual march organization and this developed both confidence and skills which has stood it in good stead in alter years

·         Awareness of efficacy of joint programs. Networks with other like-minded organization s now became one the key characteristics of PS’s work.

·         The Goa Afforestation Program: Though PS was not able to implement its plan for a comprehensive afforestation program all along the Western Ghats; it did implement it on a small scale in Ponda, Canacona and Pedne Taluka Goa as a follow-up program. The program was for schools & colleges and was a great success over three years.

 II. Spreading Branches: 1989 – 1993

By 1988 Peaceful Society has set down firm roots and now spread its branches in both development work as well as in the environmental sector. The experiences of the SWGM also had a ripple effect on all these works and the tempo and character of PS activity now changed noticeably

After the March Goa was fully alive with regard to environmental issues and many joint programs resulted .PS had also became known for its commitment to this issue and recognized for its organizational capability. Consequently it was asked to coordinate other state level campaigns/movements, which became the distinguishing feature in the next phase of its existence.

THE ANTI-NYLON 6,6 AGITATION: 1988-97

The Anti Nylon 6,6 was basically a people’s movement supported by different NGOs and support groups. The agitation was noteworthy in that this one of the first instances where the recently constituted Panchayati Raj Institutions were able to assert their newfound authority effectively.

Locals celebrating Republic Day at Nylon 6’6 site

 

The State government had allotted 500 acres to the Thapar group for the construction of a factory to produce a synthetic product, Nylon 6,6 in collaboration with Dupont. The process used was highly polluting and the factory was situated in an area, which would result in serious damage to land and water resources in a large area surrounding the factory. The land allotted was mostly communidade land – land owned by the village communities. In spite of strong pressure from above, the gram panchayat in the affected villages took a strong stand against the project. PS along with other NGOs was active in providing relevant information and training to the concerned groups, and did a great part of the spadework, liasing with the police and media, and also in conflict resolution within the movement. As the level of state oppression escalated, and TADA was used to break the resistance movement, Kalanand Mani, the executive secretary of PS was one of those against whom TADA warrants were issued. The attempts to repress the movement culminated in a brutal firing on a group of agitators in which one youth was killed. Eventually, the pressure, both local and national, proved too much for the government and it pulled out of the project, which was then abandoned.

As mentioned, PS was active in providing support to the movement both during and after the actual agitation period. This took concrete shape in a local institution in Savoiverem where the youth formed a Gram Vikas Kendra, which remained active even after the successful outcome of the agitation and took on long-term development activities in the area. Today it is implementing agency for a government-funded project for Watershed Development.

ECO FORUM

In 1991, PS lead in bringing environmental groups in Goa on one platform which finally resulted in the formation of Eco forum, (an umbrella of Environmental Organizations in Goa) with the aim of creating a base for comprehensive and sustained activity on environmental issues, rather than the short bursts of single- issue campaigns. PS was made the convenor of the Forum and under its initiative the pivotal status report on the Goa environment was completed and published as “Fish Curry Rice”.

WILD LIFE PROTECTION GROUP: 1993

This was an attempt to establish a non-partisan educational group to impart “ Nature Education” to the young population. Four nature camps were organised for school students and nature lovers. The group undertook a study of “Biological Role of the Carombolim Lake”. This study and strong resistance against the then proposed Konkan railway” led to the formation of a study team by the Union Govt. of India. The strategy was to mobilize local youth and to involve the community in a number of field studies on the ecological role of the wetlands. In the end, the alignment of the railway line, which originally would have bisected the Carombolim wetlands, effectively destroying it, was shifted to the northern boundary of the lake area and much of the wetlands were thereby preserved.

ORGANIC / NATURAL FARMING 1991

Modern farming promotes the growth of crops in isolation, with the use of hybrid seeds & excessive chemical fertilizers, giving rise to monoculture. This has resulted in soil erosion & decreased soil fertility.

The dangers of Conventional fertilizers as human health hazards & their pollution of the environment has encouraged the search & application of alternative methods to increase soil fertility. The answer to these problems is Natural Farming (NF) – a suitable alternative to modern farming.

NF an age old process was replaced by chemical monoculture process which resulted in depletion of indigenous varieties of crops, fruits, vegetables, flowers & other parts, depletion of underground water-table & excessive use of hazardous chemicals at the risk of normal life.

Reapplication of the age-old system of NF is an old alternative to this new problem, which has risen due to the so-called scientific chemical farming.

On a NF fruit trees, vegetables, grains & other crops are planted & grow in an organic & mutually favourable arrangement as a harmonious whole. Crop rotation is employed to make use of land while maintaining soil fertility.

Goa has vast natural resources but their overuse could lead to ecological imbalance & environmental problems causing irreparable damage. The aim of the PS is to work towards creating more balanced ecology by undertaking various socio economic measures in agriculture, thereby presenting the Gandhian model of ideal life & environment for the people.

In order to be in time with nature & create a stable environment, NF was undertaken by the society. NF denotes a return to nature. It essentially means the natural cultivation of crops without chemical fertilizers in a soil & environment under totally natural conditions.

Status of the farm in the year 1990

The farm area of around 2 hectares was purchased in Jan.1989, at Madkai, a small scenic interior village, 15km from Ponda town & 25 km from Panjim. It was at that time highly eroded. The soil was composed of compact laterite.

It was decided not to resort to modern farming which needs a lot of investment & care besides use of pesticides & fertilizers. Results of such farming depend on investment of manpower, money, water etc. Mr. Mani, the Executive Secretary of Peaceful Society was aware of experiment in NF in Japan & Madhya Pradesh. PS being one of the active environmental NGO in Goa & India, the prime need was to adopt some of the best processes that tradition had to offer.

The land had mango, cashew & coconut trees but most of them yielded little or no fruit.

When Mr. + Mrs. Mani took charge they had no previous experience of farming or horticulture. Confused due to their lack of knowledge & propaganda of chemical fertilizers, they decided to experiment with NF.

In this chaotic state, Mr. Mike Feingold – a British expert organised training in NF in Dec.1990 & PS began work to improve the overall condition of the farm in June 1991.

Mike Feingold demonstrating about organic Farming

NF was therefore undertaken for the following reasons: –

o        To economize & reduce minimum input costs and save labour

o        To enhance land fertility by promoting use of organic fertilizers as opposed to chemical on the overall.

o        To increase vegetation cover, density and plant – biomass.

o        To improve and maintain campus biodiversity.

o        To increase yield of harvested fruits & improve plant productivity.

o        To replenish & recharge ground water table.

o        To become self sufficient in soil, crop and irrigation management and organically grown food production.

PROCESSES ADOPTED IN NF

Promotion Of Ecological Farming By Use Of Organic Manure

The first priority was to increase the fertility of soil & thereby the overall performance of the farm.

Developing topsoil: a mix experiment with shrubs, paper and coconut husk

 

The first two years were spent in trying to control the unprecedented growth of unwanted weeds especially Mimosa Pudica (Lajula – “Touch – me – not”)

During the first two years, the traditional method of putting fire to burn the weeds was employed in the months of February & March. This solved the problem for a few months but destroyed the quality of soil & did not help in improving the performance of the farm.

Mr. Mani then realised that the soil also has its biotic life, especially the soil micro organisms, the insects, worms & when the fire destroyed them; it gave rise to numerous unwanted weeds. Hence from the third year onwards no fire was applied.

The First experiment to use weeds as organic manure was made in a small area. A lot of dry mango & coconut leaves were put on top of the weeds to create a mulch of 15.20 cms.

In a short span of 3 to 4 months, the area became a breeding ground for earthworms, the growth of weeds was controlled & they were converted into mulch.

In the second phase, the entire farm was converted into compost of organic manure. The weeds were allowed to grow till September up to a height of more than one meter. Then they were cut & left on the surface as a green mulch. This was covered by a thick layer of coconut coir obtained from the rope industry from Kundaim – an industrial area nearby. Thus shortly the entire farm was converted into fertile land. The weeds, which posed a problem before, were now a great asset.

Digging of land was also avoided. That work is done either by the earthworms or soil – borrowing fauna during the monsoons.

Promotions Of The Growth Of Local Population Of Earthworms

Taking care of Indigenous Earthworms

As the earthworms help in the conversion of organic waste into manure, their local

population was increased by providing the right environmental conditions for their growth – for e.g. the mulch.

Dr. Nandakumar Kamat, a Mycologist of Goa University & Mr Kenneth Rodrigues – a postgraduate student in Biotechnology, conducted a study of the local population of earthworms. It showed that earthworm biomass is sizeable within the campus where cashew litter is not spread. (Click Here for Earthworm Investigation)

Water Conservation

Well & rainwater is used for irrigation. All attempts are made to conserve rainwater, which increase the ground water table. The mulch reduced the evaporation of and therefore its consumption. Hence plants need to be watered from February till onset of monsoons.

Improve Of Existing Plants, Trees And New Additions

New plantations are less because the aim was to improve the existing plant yield. This was achieved mainly by improving the soil fertility. Vegetable & flowering plants are planted season wise.

Eco-Restoration By Conversion Of Coir – Pith Into Fertilizer Using Mushroom Culture Pleurets Ostreatus

Mushroom in the campus

The mother spawn of the mushrooms was prepared under the guidance of Dr. Nandkumar Kamat & was used to inoculate coir – pith beds of appx 100 kgs. The fertilizer was then used for the trees. Mushroom mycelia threads degrade the coir fibres and increase the Nitrogen Content. The fermented coir – pith is also a good soil- conditioner, as it retains 6 times its weight of water.

Results of NF

Within a short span of 6 year the farm has become a model of NF in Goa with the following achievements.

In the first two years there was a problem of pest attack. But weeds were allowed to grow & vegetables were cultivated with mixed crop system & indegenous & exotic flowering plants were grown, it resulted in depletion of the pest attack. It was realised that the burning process employed had killed the ants, bugs & flies, which in turn fed on the pests.

From the third year onwards no fire was employed, there was increase in weeds & shrubs, many more flowering plants were allowed to grow, more bugs & ants were noticed.

The weeds were used as mulch. This acted as a protective covering of the soil surface. Mulch moderates the soil temperature & protects soil from the damaging effects of wind, rain & sun thus preventing soil erosion.

It further acts as weed barried.

The weeds also increase the water infilteration by trapping the water on the surface & holding it, till it has time to be absorbed. Thus it has helped to increase the water table. Till the year 1993, the tank & well would overflow after 1 month of rains. But now after the first 1 – 2 rain showers, the tank gets filled up.

A survey conducted by Dr. Nandkumar Kamat showed that there is a tremendous increase in the diversity of fungi and mushrooms. Upto the year 1991-92 mushrooms were seen only after July-August. Now they grow soon after the first rainfall in June. This is a clear indication of the increased soil fertility in terms of rich organic matter.

The survey of earthworms showed that an open space with direct sunlight in which only dry grass composed the humus layer did not support the growth of the worms. Shaded area with mainly Mimosa Pudica plants & grass & where the humus layer composed of dry little supported earthworm growth in the upper 10 cm of soil.

The best earthworm rich habitat was a site with partial shade in which the original vegetation was cleaned & mulch in the form of dry grass was spread over the soil. Large earthworms of 5-10 cms length were found just below the humus layer of dry grass, twigs & dry leaves.

Hence the mulching process did help in enriching the soil.

Table No. I – indicates the increase in the yield of fruit bearing trees.

Some of the coconut trees were mal-nourished & did not yield any nuts. When an officer of the Agriculture department was contacted, he advised to cut the existing trees & plant new ones for both yield, but instead of cutting the trees the farm people utilized the method of organic fertilizers. In three years time the trunk of the coconut trees not only showed increase in growth but also showed an increase in yield. Trees which didn’t bear fruit earlier also started giving f r u i t of the apex 116 coconut

Trees, around 70-75 give a good yield. The rest have started fruiting. Earlier only half a day was enough to harvest the coconuts, now around seven days are required.

The first crop of cashews yielded 45 kg. (appx) In 1200, it has increased to around 300 kg.

The different mango varieties grown on the farm are mankurad, Masurad, Fernand, Kulaso, Alfanso, Maldesh, Saccharina, etc.

Economic Viability

One of the major objectives of N.F is self-reliance with minimum expenses. The disadvantages of chemical farming is recognised the world over because it is capital incentive & the return is not very satisfactory.

India is spending more than 12,000 crores per annum from the central budget on subsidy of food & fertilizers.

N.F. is more labour insentive than capital insentive. The expense of maintaining the farm was appx Rs.45, 000 in 1993. In 1995-96 it was reduced to around Rs.12, 000. Most of the fruits are sold; vegetables are used for consumption in the campus. The Mango trees are leased out for harvesting every year when the fruits attain appx half the size, with the condition that no chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used. The total income of the mango trees was Rs.15, 000 in 1993. In 1996, it went upto Rs. 23000/- and Rs 62000/= in 2003.

Ecological Importance

NF is an environmentally friendly process. The raw materials used for organic manure are free & cheap. It is pollution free, which is otherwise caused by the use of chemical fertilizers. It preserves genetic diversity & maintains life-sustaining processes like clean air & water.

The farm has provided an enriched atmosphere for birds, insects etc. The birds help transfer seeds which help support neighbouring biology. New birds are seen every year. Water Conserved at the farm could be recharging the other wells & tanks in the surrounding area. Whatever soil nutrients are generated is transformed to neighbouring area, thus increasing the overall fertility of the soil. Biodiversity on the campus is well maintained and includes shrubs, herbs, epiphytes, macro fungi, beneficial insects, earthworms’ etc. which form a local area food – chain.

Problems encountered during NF experiment

One of the major problems faced was that of manpower. Earlier people depended on agriculture, but with the expansion of industrial estates in nearby areas, the labour has been diverted. Local labourers go to places like Chandor, Chodan, Neura & Dongri, where they get higher wages. In average the farm employes 3 labourers, but even their attendance is not regular. Thus, although there were plans of an integrated approach of having a dairy, poultry, sheep rearing biogas and 3 layers of mixed cropping system, it could not be practiced.

The labourers were eager to burn the weeds, they also felt that the farm was not kept clean & was not managed properly.

Monkeys (Common Indian Languor) are common in the entire region. They could cause destruction of the fruits & trees but a strategy has been adopted at the farm in which the monkeys are restricted to the fence area. Still, they are the biggest hurdles in developing the farm. They have lost their habitat in the hand of fathers of industrial development and our farm has become their new habitat and source of survival.

At present there is no local outlet for the farm products. Moreover the local people depend on a staple diet of fish & eat vegetables only during the “ Shravan” month. People hesitate to buy a little expensive but eco-friendly products.

Right now the vegetables are used on the farm itself or sold to interested visitors. Many find the difference in taste but find the farm too far away to be regular buyers, so they are encouraged to practice the use of organic fertilizers & follow same methods.

Future

According to Mr. Mani, the farm should be inspiring for everyone in whichever integrated approach is practiced. He admits that personally he has no experience of farming & although some of his colleagues expressed doubts about NF, he was not discouraged. Based on experiences he read in books & documents he knew that NF stimulates basic improvement of soil fertility & biotransformation. The campus today is living example of growth in yield and diversities of the trees and various plants. In a short span he realised that NF is much more profitable interms of money invested, manpower involved & other bio-support than the so-called modern farming.

Due to manpower constraints his dream of an integrated farm has remained a dream. He is saddened that he cannot devote his entire time to the development of the farm.

Mr. Mani has some reservations regarding vermiculture. He says it is not the job of the urban elite to decide what farmers require. The earthworms are an integral part of the soil. They are destroyed only when the integrity of the soil is destroyed. So instead of thinking of vermiculture one must concentrate on maintaining the ecology of the soil.

Earlier the village people were sceptical of the natural methods used. They have this set idea that chemical farming is the most useful due to government propaganda. They use manure in addition to chemical fertilizers so they don’t really know if the yield is due to organic or chemical fertilizers. They have a mental constraint to completely give up chemical fertilizer. But seeing the viability of the farm, they have realised that NF is one of the best system of farming.

In Mr. Mani’s own words – “ I feel a sort of intimate relation with every plant and get a deep satisfaction while working with plants. Frustrated or depressed. I move around the farm and get a great sense of relief and peace. Farming is not only a commercial activity but also a life supporting activity. Those who want a better life should think of sustainability of their life and farm. Whatever money you may have be lost, but if you have a small farm it is a shelter in your worst moment. Destruction of this activity is the destruction of the very principle of life”