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[notes related to permaculture An imaginative text based on contemporary travel through the 'forests' by SARAI associate fellow Debkamal Ganguly »


  • The link between forest/ecology destruction / urbanism and phenomenology of trains
  • Leper colony, Santhal tribal woman
  • Time and space continuum( numbers , age )the sense of ‘’loss’’ of self in sexual congress, reaching a new continuum
  • Urban forests… urban jungle,Garbage Space and Garbage time
  • A mental forest
  • Can urban life and wilderness co-exist
  • Is the loss of wild an indispensable cost of development,of urban wilderness?
  • Soil as a unifying factor, just as the sky
  • Menstrual cycles and primitive tribal woman

“Community Ecological Mapping” by Nilanjan Bhattacharya, Kolkata »

The eastward expansion of the city is causing the fast transformation of the semi rural and rural landscape into highly urban settlements in the eastern fringe of Calcutta. Kalikapur, a densely populated locality inhabited mostly by the people from poorer economic strata, a unique ecosystem with very rich mosaic of original vegetation, with groves of indigenous trees and bushes, swamps with reeds, and number of water bodies, has strangely survived the onslaught and now remains as a refuge threatened by the fast approaching urban expansion. A considerable number of Kalikapur residents have significant dependence on the local wilderness for their dietary supplements, fuel and fodder. They, and particularly their children, are quite knowledgeable about these available, 'free' resources, in the locality and also in adjacent urban settlements. The proposed research is aimed to study such unique practice of resource use, sharing, and indigenous knowledge, in a framework of urban-semi-urban ecosystem. An outline ecological mapping along with the ethnographic history of Kalikapur region is being planned. The project also plans to document the process of urban transformation.

A small group comprises of knowledgeable kids from Kalikapur, and kids from the adjacent urban locality, who have operational computer knowledge, would be formed. Kalikapur kids will work as field guides and the urban ones will take charge of the documentation (paper, photographs, computer storage) mainly. A participatory bio-resource documentation, and exchange of knowledge and skill between these two groups would be actively initiated.

Visit to Chandani-Chowk

moonlight junction…. one of the most dense places on the planet… absolute and complete sense of chaos… people shouting, screaming and jostling … every third step a group of people is eating … visit to the 15th century haveli… peepal tree… religious significance… the tree vs the built form… growing forms vs static rigid forms… why can't our buildings… or built habitats grow… and cooperate with the trees they stand next to … why can't the built mass be built with materials and systems which when fed with water, electricity, time, maintainence, human occupation etc begins to respond and live… how does our body function… much like the way a plant functions i guess… there is something to discuss here…

i walk down the street to see more informal courtyards and smaller, personal touches of green… in front of the temple… the small jamun tree in the court yard… tulsi and kadi patta… gainda flowers… the lady who loves her money plants so much that her daughter in law has also had to fall in love with them and is seeing them as a source of joy, peace, fortune, health …

there is just too much fiesty talk and discourse all around… people are brain numb and driven into giving up their interests… awareness is at its bottom most level… it is like a crowd of cows being fed heavily before being butchered… chipko movement… blank noise… silence… tree and plants are mute and remain so… french animation where humans and their greed makes them pigs eventually resulting in their death… not death… death is beautiful… it is immortal since nothing changes once you reach it … you don't get old, you do not change…. through death one goes beyond the idea of death… Mrityunjay… visit to the jain temple… beautiful ambience… one thing which remains in my mind was a statement from the priest … the jain monks are like grazing cattle… they never take too much from one place or person… they take small amounts and then move onto the next spot

today i see trees only in areas where they have been given explicit permission to exist… schools, institutions, military campus, temples and parks. They seem to have had it real tough recently … especially with so many illegal migrants in Delhi… now migrants do have a choice.. they can give a reasonable bribe to enjoy the wonderful opportunities Delhi has to offer… but our specie never got around to developing a system of monetary benefits. We need some gigantic leaps in economics i feel.

Europe :: Asia / India _ urban farming

  • There seem to be numerous contextual divides between European and Asian backdrops and settings :soil conditions, native plants, traditional knowledge, type of relationship, role in daily life_religion/festival, macro and micro context, overall seriousness of the problem, opportunity and public perception/awareness, growth index of the city and so on
  • At one level, we have approaches and techniques like seedballing moss graffiti psychogeography which happens in a bottom up way … often fragmented till it reaches a tipping point !! This is in my opinion is a great way to approach numerous cities in Europe where the awareness is high and creating greens is high on public agenda… however, in India especially with my analysis of Delhi the situation is very different… cities in India are very well served by the produce from rural areas within and without the city… including urban villages… the service is not just agro-produce but moves over to dairy products etc.
  • Agriculture in urban India is a means of sustenance and earning money… done by the poor/migrant communities. With the emphasis on rural agriculture in India, the positive contribution that production closer to the cities can make has hardly been acknowledged and is still not acknowledged because of the shocking pace at which cities are growing. The sheer apathy of people is palpable and i have made a note of this in the second article which i have sent you. In the Indian context as in much of the rapidly developing world , a shift has to happen at a market/commercial level or a public policy level much like in Cuba. The cities have such momentum in terms of growth and infrastructure development, that we might need to propose a product which people can buy off the shelf and use in their growth ! So the question is what are the growth symbols in urban areas… or more like growth patterns_ i can see construction as an area which needs attention and so is the automobile industry
  • We have an opportunity here… to design something which will directly impact the situation… related to real estate, construction, mass production, modular systems, automobile design and architecture: something which softens the corporate sheen which cities have come to symbolise and at a scale which can become ubiquitous _ ubiquitous planting !! How can we do this ? I heard that every year the planet adds 73 million humans to its tally !! Can we do something close for plants ? Can we add 73 trillion plants every year ? I think we can :)

If you see the link above, one sees the shocking numbers we are against_ 17 million humans born every year and if you scroll down you will see the rapid and frenetic pace at which forests are being depleted and the top soil eroded.

We need to strike at the heart of this problem. To have ubiquitous planting i propose we create a series of green tiles which can be used in a modular manner in the construction and automobile industry. _ a green brick_ a brick which breathes and lives like a plant_ you could call it a plant tile too… but a properly designed intelligent green organic modular brick which can have a range of plants/seeds which can be incorporated in it based on the city/geographic location it is being used in… like any other modular brick ( for example a hollow concrete block ) this would find direct use in the construction industry … go with curtain walls/acoustic panels/aluminium sections/glass blocks … in the process it would be like a green virus… creating massive/architectural green facades… not just facades which incorporate plants into them which is now seen often as bio climatic walls … but the facade itself would be like one majestic green skin… made up of a thousand green tiles … a city would be associated with these green tiles and the specific plants they give life to… i see around scores of barren concrete walls in cities like Dubai, Brussels, New York and so on……

A modification of this brick could go on and be integrated with the design/manufacture of automobiles…

All this to say that, we will not step back, or we just can not cut back on the scale and pace of growth in urban realms but we can feed life and fertility into that growth and make it a green growth

Source: Case Study Delhi

Peri-urban agriculture in India by D S Bhupal, Dr. Fiona Marshall, Dolf te Lintelo

•The rural-peri-urban-urban continuum itself is dynamic in nature and the changes are more marked around cities that are rapidly urbanizing or growing both economically and spatially, as compared to slower-growing or stagnant urban cores.

•With the emphasis on rural agriculture in India, the positive contribution that production closer to the cities can make has hardly been acknowledged.

•A neglect of this issue by the international and national research communities. Indeed, in India, government policies, scientific research communities and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have shown little recognition of urban and peri-urban agriculture (UPA).

•Urban food security is becoming a matter of increasing concern and urban poverty is reflected in the nutritional status of people.

•The main urban agricultural area in the core area of the city of Delhi is the floodplain along the Yamuna River. The area beyond the urban conglomeration of “Greater Delhi” is still predominantly agricultural and within the wider Delhi NCT (located to the north, northwest and west between the centre of Delhi and the towns situated on its peripheries) lie important but diminishing agricultural areas. The satellite image also clearly depicts the wide extent of agricultural land use in and especially around the city: 44 percent of the land area shown is used for crop production, fallow land, plantation or grassland while 17 percent consists of built-up areas.

•Urbanization and industrialization affect agriculture in the peri-urban areas, as population pressure from the city results in changes in land use - from agricultural to urban land use, be it for housing, commercial, industrial or other purposes. Where the land use remains agricultural, cultivation practices change. Access to urban ready markets for agricultural produce and for seasonal labour open up the possibility of cultivating on a commercial basis high-value, highly perishable crops such as leafy vegetables, replacing storable crops such as cereals and pulses. Industries and their derivative trade and commerce offer new labour opportunities for cultivators and agricultural labourers, resulting in changing occupational structures.

•The role of agriculture as a livelihood strategy for the poor in peri-urban areas: access to land and water is the prime condition for urban peri agriculture

•Wheat, rice and great and spiked millet are cultivated on most of the agricultural land. Vegetable cultivation is also popular.

•The number of days of involvement in agriculture as reported by labourers surveyed ranged from 100 to 270 days per year. On average, agricultural labourers were involved for 48 days in zaid/summer (May-June), 55 days in kharif/wet (July-October) and 52 days in rabi/winter season (October-April).

•Agriculture has an important function in providing employment for poor people in the fringe areas of Delhi. The agricultural activities have a fairly rural character, with dominant roles for cereal (such as wheat, millet and paddy) and fodder crops. Typical cropping systems are millet-wheat; millet-mustard; and paddy-wheat in the kharif and rabi seasons. These cropping systems depend on widely available irrigation facilities - in 1995-96, 89 percent of the land of Delhi NCT was irrigated (Government of NCT of Delhi, 1997). However, farmers opined that frequent interruptions in the electricity supply limited their access to irrigation, particularly for the poorer ones who cannot afford diesel generator sets for pumping.

•The trend in cropping patterns around Delhi is for traditional multicropping systems of local cereal crops, pulses and oilseeds being replaced by high-input high-yielding varieties of wheat and rice after the green revolution. One striking feature of the agricultural systems is that farmers are producing a large amount of green fodder crops such as berseem. These crops demand relatively little attention, allowing farmers to focus their efforts on cultivating other produce. Generally, fodder is grown for cattle feed, and a significant share is used for buffaloes and cows in dairy production.

•Dairying: Also in urban Delhi, dairy farming takes place on public land, whether built up or not. Buffaloes can be found in densely populated areas, especially in the so-called urban villages but also in slums. In some of the Yamuna riverfront slums, dairy farms with 40-50 buffaloes can be found. Consequently, dairy production is often more visible than vegetable cultivation or other land-intensive agricultural activities in urban Delhi. Nevertheless, milk and its by-products are characteristically produced in peri-urban and rural areas, while the products are mainly consumed in urban areas. A spectacular early morning sight is offered by the daily “milk trains” entering the city with full milk churns attached to both sides of the train.

•Vegetables: Vegetables grown in and around Delhi include cauliflower, cabbage, carrot, spinach, mustard (leaves), okra and tomato. In addition, a range of culinary herbs such as fenugreek and coriander are cultivated. The increase in the share of land use for vegetables is partly explained by proximity to the markets. Vegetables, flowers and dairy products are typically high-value and highly perishable products, which need to be produced where there is easy access to export, domestic and local markets. The move towards high-profit crops is a result of economies of scale: farmers aim to maximize their income from relatively small landholdings using their other plentiful resource: labour. Hence, whole families are engaged in intensive but small-scale horticulture. The relatively short growing periods combined with high inputs of irrigation water, pesticides, fertilizers and labour mean that it is possible to produce 3-4 vegetable crop harvests per year from a given plot of land. Nevertheless, farmers are generally keen to spread their risk through diversification of crops, and will not opt solely for high-profit vegetable crop cultivation, as vegetables are vulnerable to pest attacks, extreme weather and uncertain access to irrigation.

•Contribution to the city's food economy: Agriculture around cities may improve the access of poor urban consumers to cheap and healthy food. This assessment of the extent to which food commodities produced in UPA areas contribute to fulfilling annual or seasonal demand in Delhi shows that there are large variations among different crops. For instance, the bulk of city dwellers' staple food requirements cannot be met by the UPA areas. In contrast, a majority (in terms of both volume and number) of selected vegetables in the major wholesale markets were found to originate from the UPA areas. The availability of such locally produced fruits and vegetables can contribute to solving highly prevalent urban nutritional problems stemming from insufficient intake of vitamins and minerals.

•Assessing constraints to production UPA is subject to a wide range of constraints to production. Some, for example pest attacks, adverse weather conditions and timely access to inputs such as seeds and pesticides, are common to all agricultural areas, but there are also issues that are specific to this environment. An important emerging constraint is the effect of environmental pollution of the air, soil and water, which potentially compromises the quantity, quality and safety of food produced in UPA areas. In view of the general lack of awareness about the significance of UPA, creating effective linkages with research and policy communities is of prime importance. Firstly, this requires the identification of key stakeholders from government, private sector and non-governmental organizations. Secondly, in-depth analysis of the existing legal-administrative, policy and commercial environment of incentives and disincentives for UPA farmers needs to be done. The policy environment in general is marked by a common dichotomy between urban and rural development administration and policies, leaving little scope for acknowledgement of the specific characteristics and needs of agriculture in the urban and peri-urban areas. Agricultural policies are primarily designed for rural areas, and are therefore not always compatible with the needs of UPA farmers. To bridge this gap, opportunities for linking up with activities and programmes need to be identified.

Orient vs Occident

Excerpts from An Agriculture Testament by Sir Albert Howard published in 1940

Orient_ China/India/Japan

  • System of peasant farming caring on from centuries. Agricultural practices are as permanent as those of the primeval forest
  • Chief characteristics:
    • minute holdings,
    • dominance of food and forage crops.
    • mixed crops are the rule with cereals being the main constituent,
    • a balance between livestock and crops,
    • use of animal waste (especially in china, even the human waste found its way back to the land), Nothing is waste
    • leguminous plants are common(indo gangetic plains have pigeon pea which is also a sub soil cultivator),
    • absence of soil inversion ploughs( soil inversion for the destruction of weeds in hot climate is unnecessary in hot climate since the same work is done by the sun for free !! Also preserving the level of fields is essential for surface drainage and to prevent water logging )
    • adequate suppply of labour


  • Satisfy three hungers: hunger local rural population with the livestock, hunger of urban population and that of machines which need raw materials
  • Holding tends to increase in size (from small family units of france and switzerland to collective farms of russia and ranches of US and Argentina)
  • monoculture is the rule, even rotations are unknown and no attempt is made to create natural humus or manure or waste recycling
  • dominance of the machine
  • artificial manure used widely
  • diseases and hence pesticides on the rise
  • food preservation processes is a norm
  • science a dominant force to help production
  • loss of soil fertility highlighted by the growing menace of soil erosion

sanjeev shankar

discussions_on_permaculture.txt · Last modified: 2008/03/30 12:49 by