Through community engagement, 70 acres of arid land in Puducherry could be turned into a lush tropical dry evergreen forest within 10 years

Inspired by the spirit of sustainable living and veganism, a clinical psychologist-turned-ecologist and his architect wife had embarked on a project to turn arid land on the periphery of Auroville near Puducherry way back in 2003.

The idea was to involve people from diverse lands and backgrounds to work together as a community to turn the infertile stretch of 70 acres into a flourishing tropical dry evergreen forest. The other objective was to replenish the aquifer through conservation of water, which would help the local villagers to cultivate their own food and become self-sufficient.

Ten years since, young people and even children from the neighbouring villages are now active participants in the project named Sadhana Forest. More than 25,500 tropical dry evergreen forest plants of 160 different indigenous species have been planted — the survival rate of which in average is between 80-90 per cent.

More than 20-km-long trenches have been dug and eight earthen dams have been built; altogether storing more than 50,000 cubic meters of rain water. The outcome was the underground water level rising by six meters.

Friendly relations have developed with the nearby villagers, with whom Sadhana Forest works closely to regenerate and conserve the area. Around 3,000 volunteers, interns and students, some from India but mostly from abroad, have lived and worked in Sadhana Forest for periods ranging from two weeks to 36 months. The volunteers are able to learn hands-on and through various courses on eco-leadership, water conservation, etc.

Children from the surrounding villages and from Auroville regularly plant saplings here. Twenty Ecological Living workshops have been organised so far as part of the Auroville Winter Integral Studies Program that have been attended by over 600 people.

In Sadhana Forest, all structures are built from local natural materials. A 5,000 watt solar system, 16 dry composting toilets, and a grey water system have been installed. Water infrastructure has been built that enables to water trees on 30 per cent of the land.

On the invitation of the United Nations, the Sadhana Forest Haiti was set up to create a huge food forest with local and  international volunteers, to provide nutrition to the town of Anse-a-Pitre in the south eastern corner of Haiti, one of the poorest communities in the world. Recently a branch has been set up in Kenya and one in Europe is planned.

Sadhana Forest won the third place in the Humanitarian Water and Food Award 2010.

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