Harsh Valechha, Christine Watson walking through grass

Harsh Valechha, Christine Watson – Gaia Grid

Date grant awarded: March 2019

Gaia Grid is situated in the heart of South Kadambara, Kerala, India, in a village infamous for its child deaths – a direct cause of malnutrition. An Adivasi settlement, Kadambara used to have a high life expectancy and one of the healthiest people in Kerala. The beautiful Adivasis are ancient women, men, and children whose lifestyle consisted of gathering, hunting, growing their own food naturally and living in sustainably constructed housing as an extended commune. Many Adivasis around the country are also semi-nomadic and move from forest to forest throughout the year. Recent government interventions to “civilize” and “settle” the Adivasis has resulted in a disaster of grand proportions. The Adivasis belong to what the government terms “Scheduled Tribes/Castes” and are hence “protected” by a various number of laws. These laws also ensure that the Adivasis get free food, water, electricity, permanent housing, education, and guaranteed jobs. All the freebies have unfortunately resulted in the Adivasis moving away from their sustainable ways and transitioning to concrete housing, pesticide-laden refined foods and animal rearing for milk that they sell to private milk companies. Another disastrous and direct result of the cow rearing is the massive deforestation that has followed since the cow rearing began. Prior to government intervention, the Adivasis would forage in the dense forest that spanned hundreds of acres and fed them and housed them and their animals. However, now owing to heavy deforestation, primarily to create grazing spaces for cattle and firewood for the homes, the village has lost most of its forest cover. Additionally, the milk comes from cows and goats that the government has provided to the Adivasis free of cost and in most cases, in dire need of money to fulfill their recently acquired alcoholism, the Adivasis sell their cows and goats to butchers to earn a quick buck.

Gaia Grid comes into the picture, not as a savior project, but more of a model. The idea is to take one acre of fallow land that has not been cultivated for years and has been subject to massive erosion and deforestation and convert it into a thriving and self-sustaining food forest. The idea is very simple and already underway. Gaia Grid aims to attain complete autonomy in food, water, electricity, and housing.

The main aim is to create a self-sustaining food forest whereby the community can thrive on a completely plant-based diet full of nuts, seeds, grains, lentils, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and all available local medicinal herbs and spices. As a direct result of our water conservation efforts, we have managed to raise the local water table from 500 feet to 250 feet by allowing all of the rainwater that fell on the land to percolate underground and preventing any runoff.

The local villagers also start to see the benefit of a place such as this. Almost all villagers have some agriculture land that is in disuse. Once Gaia Grid is established properly, the aim is to encourage the villagers to take up natural and organic farming again and create a co-op wherein they will be able to share their produce, exchange and even sell (if required) for fair prices. Often, “development” comes from taking a step back and this is what we are trying to do here.

The initial grant enabled us to plant trees and irrigate them. The Impact Grant will enable us to take the message of self-sustainability, veganism, low-impact living, and conservation to a larger audience. It’ll enable us to complete the construction of our workshop space that’ll be used to host workshops, seminars, conferences on self-sustainability, off-grid living, soil and water conservation, tree planting, veganism, gift economy, non-violent communication and will also double as a volunteer dormitory. We will conduct all training and workshops in the dorm space free of charge and only on donation-basis as it’ll enable us to reach far and wide and also start building connections with the local community and start being seen as a constructive force in the local conservation efforts.

We invited eligible grantees to apply for up to $5,000 in Impact Grants which will allow them to apply their creativity and ingenuity to grow their projects to greater heights.

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