At a time when the farmers in our country are in dire straits, Padma and Narsanna Koppula are helping them build sustainable, self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems, says Jamuna Rangachari.
Narsanna Koppula was introduced to permaculture by Dr. Venkat, Bill Mollison, and Robyn Francis, and participated in India’s first Permaculture Design Course conducted in 1987. He and his wife (and colleague), Padma, who were working for the DDS (Deccan Development Society), resonated with it completely and dedicated all their efforts to knowing more about it. In 1998, Narsanna quit his job at the DDS to focus on spreading permaculture across India and founded the Permaculture Association of India, along with Dr. Venkat. Together, they wanted to spread awareness about permaculture. They conducted short, practice-oriented workshops, held demonstrations, and distributed literature in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu.
In 1999, Padma and Narsanna Koppula founded their own NGO, Aranya Agricultural Alternatives (AAA), to introduce permaculture in large scale projects. They truly believed that it had the power to solve the many challenges faced by Indian farmers. Further, they wanted to ensure better implementation of government projects, especially those related to watershed management, and the duo quickly became a bridge between the government and local communities. “I felt I must restore the ownership of land back to farmers, especially rural women, so that they remain self-sufficient,” said Padma Koppula, adding that these farmers and women were her main inspiration on this journey. As I spoke to her, I could sense her passion for the mission she has undertaken, along with her husband.
Aranya Agricultural Alternatives
The word “Permaculture,” is derived from “PERMAnent agriCULTURE" or “PERMAnent CULTURE”, and stands for responsible and sustainable (sustaining life for the present as well as future generations) use of natural resources. It is a philosophy and practice that enables people to design and establish productive systems, to provide for their food, energy, shelter, and other material and nonmaterial needs, in harmony with natural systems. Essentially, permaculture is based on three ethics: Earth care—provision for all life systems to continue and multiply; People care—provision for people to access all resources necessary for their existence; and Fair Share—setting limits to populations and consumption i.e. by governing our own needs, we can set resources aside to further the first two principles.
AAA works relentlessly to achieve ecological and sustainable agricultural livelihoods, through permaculture farming practices for a greener globe. As both Padma and Narsanna Koppula come from a farming background, their strengths lie in dealing with and understanding farmers, as well as having hands-on experience in agriculture. Along with this, they have a passion for the environment, its biodiversity, and people. They take great pride and feel immense joy in seeing the positive impact of their daily work on the environment and people’s lives. AAA works mainly for people empowerment and sustainability of our lives on earth—caring as much for the earth as for the people.
Permaculture is particularly relevant to India, given the nation’s declining water resources, soil health, biodiversity, wildlife habitats, as well as associated social issues, including rising farmer debt, disappearing traditional agricultural practices, and declining farmers’ independence. AAA’s projects identify solutions that address both social and environmental concerns through a healthy synergy between the two. In addition, the NGO has endeavoured to bring to its beneficiaries, cutting edge knowledge and techniques in natural resource management (especially water), and ecological farming methods. In this entire process, it has championed community/farmers’ participation (especially women) in natural resource management. It has vast experience in participatory irrigation management. Bridging the distances between community institutions and government departments has also been an important element in most projects.
Objectives and challenges
AAA’s objectives are: to advocate and promote alternative and permanent agricultural practices with focus on sustainable natural resource management; organize and strengthen rural and farming communities to achieve food and nutrition security; promote biodiversity conservation and natural resources management with emphasis on climate change mitigation; empower people, particularly women, to facilitate processes through which they would gain access and control over natural resources; and promote sustainable livelihoods by building the capacity of different rural communities through indigenous technologies.
Though AAA was founded to help farmers lead a better life, it was not always able to convince them of the long-term benefits of its goals and projects. But Padma and Narsanna Koppula strongly believed, in Gandhi’s words, that they must be the change they wanted to see, and so, they worked with the most motivated people across communities and managed to show great results to other farmers who were then keen to join the effort. As AAA believes in sustainable agriculture which ensures sustainable livelihoods through natural resource management, people did slowly but steadily, see the positive side.
Sustainability depends on the management systems to access, control, and manage forests. In tune with AAA’s objectives, programmes on natural resources management have been launched and implemented since 2001, and till day, are being continued through several projects including soil and water conservation works, biodiversity conservation, water resource management, and green resource management. AAA has impacted 2.5 lakhs farmers directly and indirectly in the states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.
Padma and Narsanna Koppula lead a team of five employees and project managers. Teams on the field are created according to the scale of the project and range from four to 67 people. In addition, four to five volunteers are welcomed every year. Moreover, AAA always welcomes, with open arms, any person interested in their work, and receives countless visitors every year.
The number of permaculture teachers in the world is increasing, but slowly. That is why the International Permaculture Convergence Council (IPCC) selected Padma and Narsanna Koppula to host its next session. A unique Permaculture Design Course and India’s first teacher training will be organized before the event, to further strengthen the movement. AAA has two main goals: one, to introduce permaculture more comprehensively in all projects—AAA is now working on systematic methods where all aspects of permaculture are considered within one project, e.g., watershed management is not only about water collection and use, but is highly linked to the kind of crops we grow, the design of the farm to make the most appropriate use of that water and keep it as long as possible within the system; two, to prepare the second generation to take over the work— AAA hopes to train the next generation of teachers that will keep these kinds of projects alive and work continuously towards a better future.
I strongly believe that the era of more educated and independent farmers is round the corner. Let us laud and spread the message of Padma and Narsanna Koppula who have devoted their lives to propagating this great cause.
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