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The Collective from Spectacular Vanvadi Forests inspires us by specializing in Ecological Conservation, Sustainable Livelihoods & Education

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Forest foods walk with Ambibai and Mahadu Bua, local adivasis

The Vanvadi Forest is located between Ware and Chinchwadi villages in the undulating Sahyadri foothills of the Western Ghats, about 90 km from Mumbai, and 9 km from Neral station

About Vanvadi

The Vanvadi ‘forest collective’, began 25 years ago with the contributions of two dozen people to purchase 64 acres of undulating land at the Sahyadri foothills of the Western Ghats in Maharashtra. Most of the land had been clear-felled a year or two before it was bought in 1994 Ecological regeneration and progressive, local self-reliance were the primary agreed objectives. Presently, the land has regenerated into a lush, thick forest, rich in biodiversity, with over 45,000 trees.

They have listed in it 52 wild, uncultivated edible plant species, over 30 medicinal species, 20  timber species, and a number of other traditionally useful species. The main caretakers are from  a large, local adivasi family, who belong to an indigenous Indian tribe known as the Thakurs. Rainwater harvesting work too has proved quite successful, affording a fair measure of water security, while farming is presently done on about 1.5 acres. The crops include a variety of rain- fed millets; also some irrigated vegetables and fruit.

Mahadu Bua holding an edible forest plant of 'lot' (a wild yam), found abundantly at Vanvadi

While there are challenges, Vanvadi is slowly growing as a space to host workshops, work camps, forest food trails and ecology-related educational activities to understand the local flora and fauna, and the vital life-supporting ‘environmental services’ that the forest provides. Every year, starting on Dussera, it also hosts a Vanutsav or forest festival – to celebrate nature and community. As a non-profit collective, all its collections go towards maintaining Vanvadi’s conservation projects.

Vanvadi Forest Eco-Versity Association (VanFEVA): is a newly formed, ‘not-for-profit’, Section 8 Company, with a wide range of objectives, particularly ecological conservation, education and sustainable ‘lively-hoods’. It is formed by several members of Vanvadi Agro-ecological Regeneration Association (VARA). VanFEVA will envisage evolving organically into a symbiotic community, eco-versity and eco-village where people can learn from and support each other in meeting their varied needs and realizing their creative aspirations. VanFEVA is spreading its ambit to neighbouring villages through learning programmes and field projects.

A 12-week ‘Learning-by-Doing’ Programme is organized from 2nd January to 27th March 2021 keeping in mind the present context of the current extractive economic system and consumerist society that have gravely breached ecological boundaries. With the turmoil churned by Corona – and growing environmental and social crises – the urgency and importance of sustainable, community self-reliance increases each day. This 12 Week Learning –by – Doing Programme   helps us to pause and learn afresh from nature the secrets of harmonious and holistic living.

Sample collections from forest foods foraging walk at Vanvadi

Modern consumerism and mass-scale digital penetration has already life difficult for the urban  dwellers and  rural and tribal communities. Mass exodus of youth to cities where they live like refugees, learning very little of relevance to their rural lives – to which they return as misfits. Our rich natural and cultural heritage – enabling an ecological way of community living – is rapidly getting lost.

This camp is trying to reintegrate learning with living – particularly, nature, community and our deeper, cultural aspirations – with emphasis on ‘hands-on’ experience and practice to supplement ‘theoretical’ understanding.

More specifically, the main focus would be on; 

(i) Conservation and regeneration of forest, biodiversity, soil; and watershed management

(ii) Progressive self-reliance for meeting basic needs, including food, water, habitat

(iii) Understanding the significance of indigenous knowledge and bio-culture

(iv) Personal nurturing of cultural aspirations related to music, arts, health, meditation, …

(v) Experiencing and learning from community living.

Community cooking and eating at Vanvadi vanutsav

Affiliation

VanFEVA is a member of ‘Indian Multiversity Alliance’ (IMA), and ‘Global Eco-Versity Alliance’ (GEVA).VanFEVA members have previously worked and/or are currently associated with ‘Bhaskar Save Natural Farming Learning Centre’, Khula Aasmaan Trust, Redstone Eco Center & Organic farm, SECMOL, Himalayan Institute of Alternatives Ladakh, Earthcare Books, BNHS, Me2 Kids Club, New Acropolis, and many others.

Pedagogy would be mainly through experiential learning and practical application, supplemented with theoretical discussion, facilitated by VanFEVA members and visiting resource persons, assisted by volunteers. It will particularly engage village youth and other urban participants in understanding and responding to the issues and challenges faced by adivasi/rural people living in Sahyadri foothills of the Western Ghats, especially in the domains of ecologically sustainable livelihoods, education and culture. It will also include music, arts, crafts, natural healing, silent meditation, etc.

The ‘hands on’ work will include forest and watershed regeneration, natural/organic farming, and various projects for rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharge, reclamation of eroded topsoil from silted water bodies. It will also include a variety of ecologically sustainable livelihoods, including forest foods, natural processing for preservation, sustainable habitat construction, enhancing and documenting the biodiversity of flora and fauna, woodwork, palash leaf-plate making etc.

The first batch will be from 2 Jan ’21 to 27 Mar ’21. Main VanFEVA Facilitators: Bharat Mansata, Sarita Ganesh, Dilip Jain, Ganesh Subramanian, Divya Bhatia, MonaPatrao, Phiroze Palkhivala, Mahadu Bua Pardhi, Ambibai Pardhi, Maina Pardhi. The facilitators will be supported by volunteer coordinators.The Association is inviting a maximum of 20 participants with an equal mix of urban folks and rural/tribal youth, mainly from nearby adivasi villages. The urban participants will be resident at Vanvadi, while the local youth will participate through the day and return to their village at night.

Contact for more information regarding re Learning Programme; 

bharatmansata@yahoo.com,sarita.vanwadi@gmail.com, jaindilip80@gmail.com

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