A changing climate and thus an aggravating agrarian crisis is putting India’s ever-growing population at grave risk. While droughts and crop failure continue to plague the agro-rich zones of India, most farmers struggle to find a viable alternative. Added to that, the excessive use of chemicals in agriculture to meet up to the bulk demands is actually taking a serious toll on the health of the consumers, aside from polluting the environment. However, in Madhya Pradesh, IIT-IIM alumnus Sandeep Saxena seems to have found an ancient solution to thwart an impending food crisis. His organisation Aranyaani is raising ‘food forests’ in 2500 acres of fallow lands in the central state. Aranyaani is also assisting farmers to manage such food forests on their own landholdings, amounting to another 4000 acres approximately.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
What is a food forest?
A food forest is typically a very dense vegetation, created using all natural resources but not exploiting the resources. Talking to Efforts For Good, founder-innovator Sandeep Saxena informs, “We are basically structuring a proper forest, but a sizeable part of it can come in use for human consumption, but only up to a certain limit that does not affect the ecological balance.”
So how are these food forests created?
Imagine a large area being selected for handcrafting a thick forest. At the centre, evergreen trees like Peepal, banyan etc. are planted. This, according to experts, enhance diversity and thereby increase natural production. Radially surrounding the central zone, fruit-bearing trees are planted, and the open spaces are filled with smaller plants like lemon and cranberry, which do not grow much tall. The outer circumference is sown with lentils and legumes while plain grass dominates the forest ground. Vegetable bushes and shrubs grow interspersed between the fruit-bearing trees.
As evident from the afforestation pattern, biodiversity is strictly maintained in growing food forests. Instead of tilling the soil, seed balls are used so that the nitrogen cycle of the soil is not disrupted. Regeneration of seeds on their own is one of the main attributes of Aranyaani food forests.