Teach Sustainable Farming & Watershed Management
The Result: Reviving an EcoSystem and Enriching Lives
The Rishi Valley is in southern India, and is a profound example of how an ecosystem that is ravaged by human exploitation can be restored when land use habits are modified. Restoration efforts in Rishi were begun through the volunteer efforts of a Mr. Sri Naidu, a native of the valley. After losing one of his sons in a swimming accident, Mr. Naidu began to teach farming methods in the Rishi Valley, which had become completely deforested.
The Rishi Educational System
The Rishi school system modified its curriculum to bring ecologically centered courses to the students. The student work emphasizes group and individual projects. The central themes of everything the students learn are local and accountable and highly tangible. All of the projects are geared towards one thing, the ecological health of the Rishi Valley. Efforts towards this goal are economically beneficial, making the schools almost completely self supporting.
Instead of learning the nuances of the caste system, students in the Rishi Valley learn about real things described by the teacher using a box of 500 illustrated project cards. When a student has completed them all, the student has completed elementary school. Students at all the grade levels work on the same set of projects, usually oriented towards the school´ flower, fruit or vegetable gardens.
Each school offers adult education courses at night, and again, these activities are contributing to the self supporting nature of the school, since the classes are in the all encompassing realm of farming, ecosystem management, forestry, soil science, water engineering,
construction, and so on.
Students make their own activity files, which track the projects they are completing. Their involvement in farming projects causes them to learn to read, to design, to rationally compare, they learn to manipulate categories and subcategories to a practical end, they learn statistical methods, they develop objectivity. They receive an excellent education, one that will make them prosperous farmers, and will make the land bloom.
When building their new schools in the Rishi Valley Mr. Naidu´ ecology school founders built on the worst land, reducing costs further, confident again in their curriculum to be the creator of value. Instead of learning about castes, the students maintain charts on plant growth. Their academic work is effective and inspiring, because each student can see the value of what they are doing. Imagine that, we can save the forests, rivers and farms at the same time as we teach our children. Students can build self-esteem because everyone has shared in the accomplishment of a great common purpose, putting farms and forests where only desert had been. As the students grow up learning how to cooperate with others towards common goals, they also receive an excellent general education that includes farming and other trades, math, reading, writing, money management and abstract thinking.
The Rishi Farming Methods
Fast growing plants that will create a lot of biomass and a solid root system are the first step towards recovery of desertified and salinated soil. In the Rishi the villagers chose the Custard Apple, which in addition to the virtues of being hardy and fast growing, contributes a food crop.
Water catchments were constructed using local material, mostly soil and stone. Building water diversion berms along the elevation contours has allowed excess runoff to be channeled into percolation tanks. The water table in the Rishi Valley was brought up from 40 feet down to only 10 feet down. This allowed well irrigation instead of massive ditch irrigation which wastes water and creates salinity.
Low tech solutions use inexpensive or waste materials. For example, the drip irrigation system that Mr. Naidu invented consists of filing a large food tin with water and blocking the small holes in the bottom sides with cotton so the water will drip out. A few of these around the first trees allows watering through the summer and drought seasons, especially when the trees are first getting established.
The best fertilizer is organic. “Neem Cakes” are popular among Rishi’s farmers. They are a decomposed pile of leaves from the Neem tree. Much of the new soil in the Rishi Valley comes from the silt that must be regularly scooped out of the percolation tanks. Everything, of course, is composted. Desertified soil is first anchored with trees either as patches of forest or as windbreaks, then farms and gardens are established. The process of restoration is self-accelerating, because each element of remediation, the water table, the quantity of biomass, the condition of the soil, creates more of a resource base to recover larger and larger areas that were lost.
The Rishi method is to restore and even intensify what was originally in place; a verdant forest harboring rare birds and yielding timber, a commercially competitive organic farm using lush natural soil, and a human population who stewards this abundance in a way that fosters their own aesthetic sense as well as nurtures their prosperity. What better way to build self-esteem and reward initiative?