Sadhana Forest, home to a vibrant, indigenous Tropical Evergreen Forest (TDEF), was a project started by Aviram Rozin and his family in 2003. The project, located on the outskirts of Auroville, is an experimental community in South of India. The community at the Sadhana Forest is known for reforestation, water conservation practices, and veganism. They have revived 70 acres of forest area. But, the beginning of this journey was not so easy.
“Water conservation and reforestation are the main environmental issues of the 21st century. Desertification is a malignant process. It is consuming our planet just like cancer can consume the human body,”Advertisement
Aviram Rozin, Founder, Sadhana Forest
When Aviram first arrived with his family at Auroville, to find his own “Sadhana” or “spiritual path”, he instead found a dry barren land. This land was once a Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest. This forest type is found only in Southern India and Sri Lanka. But, this forest was completely deforested during the colonial times.
First Step: Water Conservation
The initial volunteers with their passion started planting trees. However, they soon realized that planting trees wasn't enough. They realized, water conservation would have to be the primary goal. Hence, before planting trees, the project worked on water conversation in the region to ensure the fertility of the soil. Even though the land receives a good amount of rainfall during the monsoon season, it is mostly lost as the water would run off towards the sea without being soaked underground.
"...Stopping the water everywhere has worked as a miracle. The result is a six meters increase in the water level and a lot of vegetation that is growing here. Then, people can harvest it in their wells for their agricultural and their domestic uses and of course for drinking."Advertisement
Aviram Rozin, Founder, Sadhana ForestAdvertisement
To conserve water, they used a number of permaculture techniques such as bunding, building mounds, swales, and sponges to retain and conserve water on the land. Eventually, utilize it to its fullest capacity. As a result, the groundwater level has risen by 6 meters, after continuous efforts towards water conservation.
Second Step: Planting Trees
With the groundwater level rising, the team focused on planting trees. The methods such as building heaps, using wicks to keep the plants hydrated, constant mulching, and taking care of the sapling have increased the survival rates by 80%. The native tree saplings were acquired from nurseries in Auroville. The revival of the trees also led to the return of many native species of birds and animals back to the forest.
Third Step: Growing People - Volunteer Program
Sadhana Forest receives around 1000 volunteers every year, from all around India and other countries. These volunteers are from diverse backgrounds and age groups. The volunteer program has introduced a growing number of people to sustainable living, and food security through ecological transformation, wasteland reclamation, and veganism.
“What is unique about sadhana forest is the fact that we have a huge team, that is all volunteers and the Cost of work is very very low. So we can do a huge amount of work all over the world with very very little funding. That's cost-effective and that's bringing the right message to the people.”
Aviram Rozin, Founder, Sadhana Forest
Volunteers living at Sadhana Forest are expected to participate in a “Seva”. 'Seva' basically means, a selfless service for 25-35 hours a week, which includes tasks related to Reforestation, Water conservation along with other general tasks to sustain the project.
The volunteers are expected to stay for a minimum period of 4 nights for both foreign and Indian residents and 2 nights for people over the age of 40 and families with children. There is no limit provided for a maximum stay. However, those interested to visit the forest for a day are offered a tour around along with a delicious vegan meal.
People at Sadhana Forest also host a core-value talk every Monday. Furthermore, a 'non-talent show' on Wednesday nights followed by an 'eco-film club' every Friday night. These small projects encourage people to come together and share their thoughts and values, in a non-competitive manner. One of the most liked natural elements of Sadhana Forest is the Mud-pool. It is open to all its volunteers for a good swim after a tiring day.
There are other projects in other countries. You can learn more on their website. Furthermore, their Vegan Forest Festival, and Plant 4 India initiative, again can be learnt more on their website.
A Model for Sustainable Living
People from all around are attracted by their eco-friendly way of living. These eco-friendly ways include:
- using natural materials for their Infrastructure,
- operating on solar energy,
The solar panels keep the forest charged throughout the day and night, without depending on a power source from outside.
- using bio-toiletries, compost toilets
The leftover food is separated into compost and food for dogs, cats, and cows. The dry waste and the urine from the compost toilets are collected separately and are used as manure for planting trees.
- zero-waste approach, and
use firewood for cooking, the leftover ash and coconuts husks are used for washing vessels, and biodegradable soaps and vinegar are used for hand washing and sanitizing water.
- conscious consumption from local and regional organic farms.
They also follow a strict “No drug policy” - where no drugs or alcohol consumption is not allowed. Interestingly, it includes the consumption of coffee also. The zero waste store at Sadhana Forest separates and segregates their waste into plastic, metals, paper, electronic, foam, landfill, sanitary, etc.
“May there be more forests to grow people!”
Katharina, Volunteer Switzerland
There is a certain sense of realization when you are in a community. A sense of togetherness, if not anything. We have lived and brought in a very competitive environment. That, in a way, feels like our first nature. Unlearning from the core is a very interesting aspect of being in a place like Sadhana Forest. They have achieved success. They have revived a whole forest, and you live inside it. That is an excellent example of human determination.
We, people with privilege, live in abundance. Sadhana Forest makes you realize how little we need to live and enjoy the virtues of life. Quite like it happens in nature, nothing in this system is wasted. Not even your pee, and poop. Also, veganism is not as difficult to adopt as some might think without experiencing it. Furthermore, it also provides an alternative while we keep asking for one.
Written By Rajeev. He likes to know about human experiences and the evolution of society. And, if you don’t find him reading a book then, you’d find him watching a film.