Grow and restore: Permaculture beyond the garden
Venkatesh Dharmaraj is a Bangalore-based advocate and tax consultant who shut his flourishing tax consultancy and took off on a two- year sabbatical to follow his heart – by contributing to the environment through permaculture (permanent agriculture). He took the giant leap – from his comfort zone of hard-bound tax books, to the world of “ponds, compost-heaps, trees, plants, food-forests, companion-cropping, alley-cropping, plant-guilds,” and much more.
The core idea in permaculture is working in harmony with the flow of nature and mimicking it to create conditions for it to repair and regenerate itself. It brings together several elements – environmental, agrarian, climatic, social and political and integrates them with the traditional knowledge-systems.
This World Environment Day, Mr. Venkatesh Dharmaraj shares his passion for permaculture in an exclusive interview with Sify.com. Read the transcript below.
What inspired you to shut your tax consultancy and take up farming? How has your life changed?
I had always said “if I am not inspired, then I have expired!” and “if I am not inspiring, I am expiring!”, therefore, anything that triggered inspiration in me was always welcome.
The shutting down of my tax consultancy didn’t come out of inspiration, rather it came out of my desperation to get out of the routine money making chore and find something meaningful and exciting to do in life. But I didn’t know what that “something” was and therefore, I found out the hard way, hit and miss and constant looking out for something that would interest me. I got interested in communities around the world and began contacting these communities and got invitation to visit them.
I began with Australia and stumbled on ‘permaculture’ a farming technique that used ancient knowledge and nature as it’s core to do farming, simply put natural farming without tilling, without using machines, and growing plants naturally as the forest does. That’s how I got into farming.
More than anything, it changed my perception of how we can bring positive changes to the ecology by using nature’s techniques and let the nature restore itself! So it was a leap from farming to ecology and all of us can contribute to it.
What were the bottlenecks you first faced?
There were no immediate bottlenecks, as I pursued an introductory course followed by a certification in permaculture at the Panya institute of permaculture Thailand. I enjoyed spreading this techniques in Fang, Thailand for an orphanage run by Sila Home Ministry, then to a community in China called the New Oasis for Life. The bottlenecks came, when I decided to spread this techniques to many places including India. There were no takers!
Fortuitously, The Art of Living in Bangalore, which has been practicing chemical free organic farming came to me as a boon when I was invited to do a demonstration site for them! I was interested in starting a teaching centre too in that site and that was welcome by the Art of Living during August 2013 and there has been no looking back since then.
What were the produce grown by you by using permaculture? How did it feel when you harvested your first produce?
We are currently growing a food forest, which helps restore nature while producing for us and vegetable garden which starts yielding in about four months.
Do you think more Indian youth should get into farming?
What steps do you think the new government can take to help farmers?
No subsidies required, no loans required…. what’s required is encouragement and starting an institute to study and teach permaculture.
How big is the organic food market in India? How do you think it can grow?
It’s as big as the present food market. The heavy use of pesticides is robbing our daily regular food of its nutrients.
How do you think permanent agriculture can help?
Permanent agriculture (permaculture) does not use chemical fertilizers, pesticides. It creates compost from bio waste, which consists of bio waste which consists of many many nutrients compared to the chemical fertilizers which contains only three nutrients, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Did you pursue any course/research before engaging in permaculture? What should one do to gain prior knowledge in this field before actively engaging in it?
Yes I did. This will be a wholistic approach to organic farming and also urban permaculture of growing food in kitchen gardens, terraces and balcony. It’s sustainable agriculture and sustainable culture, which integrates many aspects of sustained living, including natural buildings, recycling waste to produce compost, water catchment, water conservation and a host of things that influence the human life and the environment and the ecology. It’s about living in harmony with nature and not against nature.
This is the future of the earth, as the present life system is dependent on fossil fuels like petroleum and also minerals and metals. These have reached already their peak and there will be decline in the availability of these resources. Permaculture brings alternatives to these resources from nature and from natural materials that are biodegradable and recyclable. Thus it is sustainable culture and agriculture.
Living in harmony with nature in the permaculture way which adopts principles and techniques from ancient knowledge, knowledge from the nature and forest and using appropriate technology and science.
Permaculture’s vision is:
People care &
Permaculture uses 12 principles which are harmony with nature, thus encouraging a natural ecological balance on earth.
The Art of Living has taken the initiative in bringing permaculture to India through this demonstration site which will also host many training courses and creating permaculture teachers and spread the beneficial effects of permaculture principles and techniques.
This can be taken to many places in India and create demonstration and teaching centers to benefit not only farmers and agriculture but the very way of living in harmony with nature and to contribute to bring back ecological balance.
What can an individual do to implement permaculture at home on a smaller scale? For e.g, if he has a garden are there any guidelines he has to follow?
Urban permaculture is a branch of permaculture which focuses on growing food in urban areas. Terrace gardens are easy to do.
What is your message to India on World Environment Day?
Nature is bountiful despite our overuse and destruction of its precious treasures. Global warming and fuel and water crisis loom large on the face of this earth. Permaculture is being in harmony with nature to create conditions for nature to restore itself. Just be aware and be part of this process of creating conditions for nature to restore itself.
Visit the Art of Living website For more information on sustainable agriculture and permaculture.