How Will The Biggest Food Forest Tree Planting Plan In The World Affect Water Catchment In The Indian States Of Karnataka & Tamil Nadu? And What Lessons Can UK Gardeners & Farmers Learn?

For years Indian farmers were advised to fell trees because they robbed their crops of water and nutrients. The result was, after many millennia of farming, that the rivers started to dry up. In the last 30-40 years the Cauvery river in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka has stopped flowing several months each year. Something it hadn’t done in perhaps 6000 years.

The lack of trees meant less shade and higher temperatures. The soil baked, and when rain came erosion soon followed. Soil organic matter decreased and a downward spiral was created. Then Sadhguru founded the Isha Foundation and the start of the world’s largest tree planting scheme quickly followed.

The plan is simple. Plant 2.42 billion trees. It’s led to social change as well as tree planting. Indian weddings can see 1000 plus guests and they are given a simple task. Each is tasked with planting a single tree for the bride and groom. And to make it easy they are given trees to take home and plant after the celebrations. It’s that simple.

Hillsides along the 800 kilometre river catchment with fewest trees are being targeted for planting. These are the areas marked brown on the photo. By planting in those areas the trees will sequester soil carbon. Plus they will feed the soil with leaves, the leaves increase soil organic matter and make the soil more capable of soaking up the rain and the subterranean aquifer reserves increase. This water then slowly feeds the rivers all year rather than in flash floods during the rainy season. Alongside this the trees provide shade, so crops are less stressed, and after 25 years the farmer has a valuable crop of mahogany, teak or other wood.

Indian Tree planting plan

Gardeners can learn much from these practices. We can see how feeding the soil with organic matter benefits crops due to increased fertility. We can see how the shade from crops prevents excessively high soil temperatures and the tree roots prevent erosion.

As gardeners and growers we can have a huge impact on the future climate and weather. But, like these Indians, we need to make a conscious effort to do so.

In my small valley in Devon, with one of the shortest rivers in England, we are planting 15,000 trees over a few years. We think it’s a big project that we should be proud of. It’s certainly a project I support and I take part in the planting. But when viewed against a plan to plant billions of trees I realise it’s a drop in the ocean. But then I remember that it’s being planted one tree at a time in both my valley and India.

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