“I remember when I, along with the other kids, would play in the stream that formed in the village every monsoon season. Now the kids in the village don’t play in the stream because there is no stream anymore, there is no monsoon,” regretfully shared Sagar, the project manager at Toranam.
Climate change strikes the poor the hardest. It threatens their livelihood and their future. Among many regions of India affected by climate change, Madanapalle in a southern state of Andhra Pradesh stands out due to the acute shortage of water. As the monsoon rains often fail to appear, the prolonged drought put the small-scale farmers in the region at greater risk, pushing them further into poverty.
The Toranam Project in Madanapalle strives to create strong, replicable systems in the field of sustainable agriculture, food forestry and land rejuvenation. These systems may empower local farmers to duplicate these ecological practices for better food and economic security. Hence it becomes essential to not only judicially use water, but also to capture whatever water the rains bring. We at Toranam consider this a prerequisite in achieving our goal of rural self-reliance.
The cyclic transformation of rejuvenating land begins with harvesting water and enabling it to infiltrate the ground and recharge aquifers. By selecting tree and plant species that are native and non-invasive to the region, such as Sesbania Grandiflora and Moringa Oleifera, the soil structure improves due to the added biomass. This in turn increases the water holding capacity and water infiltration with a reduction in evaporation.
Detoxifying the roof's surface for rainwater harvesting
Harvesting water from already existing structures is an extremely impactful way of conserving water. The building at Toranam is a second world war era structure, with a roof made out of asbestos which is a highly toxic material. The roof covers a large area of 456 sqmt., which equals over 296,400 litres of rainwater wasted every year. With a more sustainable roofing material and rainwater capture system in place, this water can be effectively harvested and stored for multiple uses at the Toranam demonstration farm. The water saved will be used to irrigate the garden beds, trees and passively recharge the severely depleted underground aquifers and borewells.
Along with the previously stated issues, India is also amidst a major waste management crisis. There are only a handful of companies handling toxic wastes such as asbestos. The dismantling and removal of roofs containing asbestos can have a serious environmental impact when not done properly, not discounting the health implications for the people handling the material. Given this, instead of removing the existing structure, we are taking help from Saahas Zero Waste, a waste management organisation based in Bengaluru, India, which has created a sustainable new roofing material made from used Tetrapak containers. This new upcycled and lightweight roofing material is not only environmentally friendly but can also be easily installed on top of the existing roof, thereby completely eliminates the harmful effects of the asbestos on the harvested water.
Harvesting water and putting it to good use is the first step we can all take to re-establish the natural cycles of life and reverse the ill effects of ‘modern’ agriculture and food production that have wreaked havoc on our environment and the lives of farmers. The impact that a small-scale farmer can create by using sustainable agricultural practices is immeasurable. Working with mother nature rather than against her will rebuild our traditional relationship with the land and also inspire neighbor farmers and villages to adopt similar practices. This can lead to positive changes in local micro-climates and eventually restore the global ecosystems. The world is no longer made up of isolated pockets. In a more globalized world, where every action we take has an exponentially large impact, with rising temperatures and erratic global weather, the survival of the human race comes into question - hence every individual becomes not only a stakeholder but a change maker. We appeal to you to help us bring about this positive transformation. Your contribution and involvement will support the objectives of achieving a more sustainable future for all. We are all members of the same world family, every plant, animal and person are one. Let us bring the world out of disrepair that decades of ignorance and greed has ravished. Let the streams that once flowed through Sagar’s village and many other villages flow again.
Written by Sachin Gupta and Marc Raventos.