Landscape architecture, garden design, planting design and management - Rowland Byass

Deepak Suchde: Natueco Farming

12/07/2012

Deepak Suchde is an Indian permaculturalist, social activist and farmer. I heard about him and his work in 2011 while I was working on a landscape project in Ujjain, in the same state (Madhya Pradesh). I hoped to get his help in trying to achieve one of the aims of our project: involving local slum dwellers around the new landscape we were designing in creating productive community gardens, to improve the heavily degraded landscape around the Rudra Sagar lake in Ujjain.

Temples and ghats on the Narmada

He lives on a small farm next to the wide Narmada river that runs through the rocky landscape south of Bhopal in rural Madhya Pradesh. Originally a social worker, Mr Suchde became interested in permaculture and biodynamic agriculture as a means of addressing poverty and malnutrition in rural India. His work owes much to the ideas of Shripad Dabholkar, an Indian thinker and activist who promoted economic development through self-reliance and knowledge sharing, in harmony with the natural world.



Tall and with a long snowy beard, he has something of the guru about him. In fact, he has featured in a movie about the life of Christ, in which he played the role of Jesus Christ’s guru (no, I wasn't aware that was in the story either). But what is really remarkable about Mr Succhde is what he’s done on his land, and its potential for grassroots rural and urban development in India.

I had heard about biodynamic agriculture before. It’s essentially a more involved version of the principles of organic agriculture. The aim is to maximize the microbial life and health of the soil, and of all organisms, to increase the ecosystem's health and thus its productivity - without any recourse to chemicals.

I can’t speak with any authority on the theories of biodynamic agriculture. But I can say with certainty is that there is something different about a farm like this. The air hums with life. There are bees and insects everywhere. Huge papaya trees are thickly clustered with fruit – so many fruit that Mr Succhde doesn’t worry about the birds who peck at some. The plants exude a palpable vitality and health.


Citrus in rudest health


Near the kitchen, he has created a small garden which he calls the Ganga Ma Mandal. A Mandala is a sacred geometrical diagram representing the cosmos, used in meditation and yoga. This mandala is a circular garden 30 feet in diameter, covering less than 100 square feet.  All the plants needed to feed a family of five can be grown here. At its centre, water is supplied from the waste pipe from the kitchen sink. Plants are grown in circular beds arrayed around this centre, grouped according to their water needs and cultural requirements: water-demanding bananas, papaya, turmeric and ginger at the centre, vegetables in the next ring, and herbs and medicinal plants around the outside.  The structure of the vegetation is designed to resemble a forest: low growing plants under shrubs and climbers, shaded by a top canopy of trees. Mr Suchde is keen to promote this garden as a solution for rural and urban malnutrition: it needs very little space, nothing more than a greywater supply in the way of input – only the knowledge to create and maintain it. You can see a video about it here.

Part of the Ganga Ma Mandal

The farm here is run as a demonstration and training centre for farmers, who can learn permaculture and biodynamic inspired methods of soil improvement and cultivation. These include Amrit Mitti and Amrit Jal – concoctions of cow dung, urine and jaggery (unrefined palm sugar) which are designed to maximize the soil’s microbial life, and thus its productivity, without digging or adding large amounts of nitrates, as is the conventional practice.


The tanks in which dry organic matter is soaked in a fermented mixture of cowdung, urine and palm sugar, then spread over the soil to activate the soil's microbial activity.

Unlike other models of development, this one does not necessitate vast amounts of capital, technology or the collectivization of small farms into vast agro-industrial enterprises. It addresses the issues facing farmers with little or no access to capital, hybrid seeds or technology. Instead, it empowers them with the resources they have easy access to. Shripad Dabholkar calls this the Four Ss: Sun, Science, Sharing, Sovereignty.



I was really lucky to meet Deepak Suchde. He’s a remarkable man, animated by a sense of benevolence and purpose that is as palpable as the strange vitality that pervades his land. He has adapted permaculture and biodynamic techniques to India’s unique social and cultural environment. His ideas deserve to be more widely spread. I want to spend much more time learning from him the next time I return to India.


My  biodynamic guru

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