The Greening of Auroville
When Australianborn Joss Brooks visited Auroville way back in 1969, there was nothing but a few scattered palm trees in the vast acres of wasteland. A year after the young law and philosophy graduate decided to be a part of an ongoing experiment on human unity and settled in Auroville. It was then that he vowed to bring back life into the wasteland that used to be a beautiful forest 200 years ago. Joss realised that it was not an easy task. The land was dry and desolate. There was no well and irrigation facilities. The dry-land farming of peanuts and pulses had degraded the soil, leaving deep eroded gullies. However, he did not lose hope. He formed a community, ‘Pitchandikulam’ and initially engaged local boys in the restoration process by using green manure to rebuild the soil. Gradually, like-minded persons joined the community. They planted living fences of thorny species to protect the land from goats and cows and planted trees to provide windbreaks. The first well was dug at Pitchandikulam in 1973 and a bullock cart was used to water tree saplings. Then they collected seeds and saplings from the remaining patches of the almost extinct tropical dry evergreen forest and planted all in the barren land. Soon, nurseries were started to propagate local plant varieties in the region. After almost 35 years of hard work, Pitchandikulam emerged into a 60-acre, self-generating forest sanctuary within the greenbelt of Auroville and conserves more than 800 species of indigenous flora and fauna, including 400 medicinal plants, most of them almost extinct in other regions. The community is named after Pitchandi, a traditional healer who lived near a pond (kulam) in the same locality hundreds of years ago. It has also established an ethno- medicinal forest, bio-resource centre and an indigenous plant nursery focussing on the restoration of the tropical dry evergreen forest. Such forests are now close to extinction. The nursery that has a wide collection of herbs and other species of medicinal plants is one of the very few sources in the country that supply rare herbs to government and NGOs for academic research and treatment purposes. “Many of the TDEF species had never been propagated in nurseries before. Presently, we have about 40,000 seedlings that are sold locally and used in the preparation of herbal medicines for health camps,” Joss said.