After the Tsunami that devastated coastal communities on Tamil Nadu is 2004, volunteers from the Isha Foundation tried to figure out how to help the villagers come out of shock and get on with their lives. Their solution was to grow and then gift them tree saplings - one for every life lost, so that the grieving process had a place to be directed. It worked. Volunteers got to witness first hand, how tending trees literally healed hearts, people and place.
What started as a path out of grieving became a mission to bring the population of Tamil Nadu (68M) together around the reforestation of their entire state to try to reverse extreme desertification.
To do this, they had to tend the demoralized and defeated villages whose wells had dried up and who's lands were dead. They created a process of rehabilitating people, before they could then ask those people to rehabilitate their lands with trees. They did it with yoga, meditation and volley ball - games that became the village Olympics, and that started a planting revolution that has now seen the planting of well over 28 million trees across the state.
Life is getting more than interesting for our planting partners in southern India, Project GreenHands. Thanks to climate change, it's getting the sort of hard that requires nimble response and huge creative thinking at a whole systems level.
Image: Planting on the tsunami beaches to create tidal buffering
PGH has many facets to its planting, but the one that they asked us to support them with is the most costly and needed - ensuring that the agricultural culture of the state is not lost completely.
We are supporting the education of farmers to turn towards agro-forestry - were trees become an integral 'crop' in a poly-culture approach combining animals, crops and trees. In temperatures regularly over 40 degrees where rains fail and earth literally becomes as hard as concrete, trees provide shade, soil fertility, moisture and their own crops of seeds, nuts, fruit, medicines, herbicides, oils and those that can be grown on their frames - like peppercorns.
The added costs here are drip irrigation systems that are vital infrastructure without which the saplings and trees would not stand a chance. Steadily, we're helping to rehabilitate lands to stop the exodus from village to city and the decent into radical poverty, whilst bringing the trees and the streams back to those who depend upon them.
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