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

What does sustainable development look like? (I)

01/02/2013

This question has occurred to a lot over the last month, travelling across the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Semi-arid, vast (at 308,252 km², significantly bigger than the UK's 243,600 km²) littered with historical monuments and some of the largest tracts of India’s remaining forests, the state also record’s India’s highest rate of child malnutrition (at 55%).

But like the rest of India it’s changing. The need for economic growth and development to raise the living standard of the poor in India is a no-brainer. Sustainable development can be defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’

Everywhere I went in the last month, I could see signs of change: development, and the social and environmental pressures it’s causing. It made me wonder how one can identify sustainable development. How can we tell the differences between 'good' and 'bad' development?

Beyond organic: Natueco farming

"When we farm with love and concern for all forms of Life, our experience becomes deeper, we open our hearts to understandings that normally evade us in daily life. We observe, we understand our relationship with Nature, our being Nature. Natueco farming is thus envisioned to produce not only material but also spiritual abundance."

- Deepak Suchde

Deepak Suchde’s  philosophy of ‘conscious farming’ is founded on three pressing issues of global importance:

One, that the energy input needed to sustain the current industrialised, petrochemical-based food production system is unsustainable.

Secondly, that food produced with fertilisers and pesticides has declining levels of vitamins and micronutrients. Not just this, but it is contaminated with the pesticides and herbicides used to grow it. ‘Eating is becoming a poison.’

Thirdly, that rising energy costs, feeding into rising living costs, are putting more and more people into poverty – particularly in the ‘developed’ world where effective living standards for many, particularly after the economic crisis of the last four years, are in decline.

Natueco farming is an approach to small scale productive growing that uses biodynamic and permaculture methods to produce high quality organic produce from small acerages for farmers with minimal resources and little or no capital. Based on the methods of soil activation developed by the late Professor Shripad Dabholkar, it is designed to promote food self reliance for small farmers in India. But as taught by Deepak Suchde, it is more than this - a philosophy of 'conscious farming'. That is, growing plants as a form of meditation on our interdependence with the living world.


Tea grown in Assam, processed in Harda. Adding value by processing is a way of increasing rural incomes.

After I left Deepak’s farm, alive with animal and plant life, I somehow ended up as a VIP guest at an agricultural fair in Harda, a small market town not far away. Here, Bombay-based businessman and developer Mr Rajiv Bahety impressed on me the changes taking place in rural agriculture here. It’s sometimes easy to be pessimistic about India – the intractability of the poverty at the bottom of the economic pile; and what looks like the wholesale adoption of rampant consumerism on a Western model at the other end of the scale. But the Narmada Valley Rural Development Foundation Trust is a rural business partnership concerned with rural economic development that reaches across the rural-urban economic divide and raises incomes for producers as well as processors and middlemen. This is the real Big Society, and it has nothing to do with government initiatives.


Embroidering blankets for export to Germany, providing income and economic power for village women

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