Today, Navadarshanam is home to thousands of trees, most of which have taken root naturally. The first thing that was done when ND was started was to stop cattle from grazing on the land. In most places, forests were cleared making way for agriculture. Intensive agriculture soon led to loss of soil fertility and the lands were then used for grazing cattle. This leads to further degeneration of land since cattle just eat up saplings. Apparently sheep and goats create much of the problem, while cows are selective about what they eat and are thus not harmful to saplings. In this area, once agriculture failed, one of the international agencies (I forget which one) provided funds to the people to purchase livestock. The communities invested in sheep and goats and a lot of the region is bare due to this. Makes me think of Marx’s quote: the road to hell is paved with good intention!
Fencing off the land to grazing was not trivial. The local community did not understand their logic. They were not growing anything there and they certainly did not have any cattle (They did not want their own cattle damaging the vegetation. They purchased cattle after 6-7 years). So what were they doing with the land? It was tough and people sometimes cut off the fence to graze their cattle but the extent of grazing was much lesser and soon the land was covered with lantana bushes. This provided a protection cover for other saplings and soon different types of trees started growing there – the doing of birds. Over time, the lantana bushes committed suicide, as Ananthu put it! He is a strong believer in Nature’s patterns and was explaining how each year something different grows – it is almost like Nature knows what the land needs.
They might have somehow made their neighbors understand their philosophy about grazing, but when tuskers from the Thally reserve trampled through the land, nothing could be done. Saplings just died under their feet. This was when they decided to get an electrified fence that produces a pulse of very high voltage but small current and hence provides a shocking sensation that is not harmful. I was too chicken to touch it…maybe next time!
They have planted some fruit bearing trees but have taken the effort of not turning them into monoculture orchards. You would see guava, chickoo and mango all planted near each other since they argue that each of these trees require different nutrients and thus would not compete with each other.