The A4A team reports on the results of supporters’ solidarity
On August 15th, the Acres for Auroville Land Campaign kicked off its sixth year as a collaborative action of Lands for Auroville Unified (LFAU) with the worldwide centres of Auroville International. Guided by The Mother’s words – “A harmonious collective aspiration can change the course of circumstances” – we have worked hard to create awareness of and resources for the urgent need to purchase the still missing land in Auroville’s designated Master Plan area.
Approximately 1,000 donors from Auroville, the Ashram, India and all around the world have donated to support the A4A action. The majority are repeat donors – and Auroville’s 50th anniversary brought particularly encouraging support! For the past five years, Unity Pavilion, in conjunction with A4A and AV Arts, has hosted the Art for Land exhibition and fundraiser whose proceeds go to A4A. Other solidarity has come from initiatives of Auroville units – Visitors Center, CSR, Upasana, Joy Community’s Healing Festival, marathon market contributors, and Maroma Candles. The book 50 Poems from Auroville was created by Vikas and funded by AVI UK to support A4A. And thanks to AuroImage, we have a rich collection of original films and clips. Yes, solidarity works and, yes, together, we can change circumstances!
And mainly, we thank the land donors! According to the Land Board, donations to Acres for Auroville and LFAU have made possible the purchase of 52 acres of previously missing land since A4A’s beginning. These new plots have provided the space for vital infrastructure, afforestation, food growing and activities that contribute to Auroville’s continuing leadership in ecology. Here are some of the results as reported by the land stewards on the new plots purchased thanks to our supporters’ solidarity.
Auroville’s farming boosted
Food sustainability is a basic need and the donations have enabled the purchase of significant acres of new farmland. Siddhartha Farm is one of the beneficiaries, as the A4A funds have enabled the purchase of extra plots for the farm. It is one of Auroville’s oldest farms, started by Herbert in 1995, and located on the fertile plain near Irumbai Lake. Using experimental, organic and traditional methods, Siddhartha grows paddy rice, bananas, pulses, grams, nuts and sugar cane, and has food-processing units for making cashew butter, groundnut butter and organic jaggery (raw sugar syrup). One of Siddhartha’s major goals is helping Auroville achieve self-sufficiency in its need for rice, with two harvests a year possible due to the availability of water. For the new plots, digging and laying in water pipes was the first task undertaken along with building a temporary thorny fence and creating access to the main road. Herbert writes: “I remember three years ago when we met at the farm with Sigrid and had a collective dream to integrate this land for Auroville. It feels unrealistic that this dream has come true. We invite you to have more unrealistic collective dreams for a better future!”
Another farm that has benefited from new donation-funded land is Kalpavruksha, stewarded by Ramesh. Also located in the Irumbai catchment area, the good water availability enables it to grow cereals, sesame, sugar cane and rain-fed vegetables. It aims to promote biodiversity by cultivating endangered food such as varieties of bananas and animal species, like indigenous hens and native fish. And just this past September, Auroville’s Land Board announced the happy news of more new land purchased in the Irumbai area, thanks to supporters’ donations.
Tree planting on new land equals water
Many new donation-funded plots are located in the collectively managed NFA sanctuary forest (Northern Forests of Auroville) which comprises eight stewarded greenbelt blocks. In line with Auroville’s tradition of green leadership, the sanctuary aims to establish a protected forest, and collectively manage it for posterity. The new plots have provided welcome new land for this goal. According to Kamataru steward Rishi, “Our climate is the result of the extent and quality of our forests. Forests are, in fact, water. The health of our aquifers is directly connected with the health of our watersheds which are directly correlated with the health and extent of the forests on them. Unless we recreate sufficient surfaces of land covered with protected forest, we will not be able to replenish the aquifers nor be able to change the climate.” Additionally, the NFA is meant as a diverse wildlife breeding ground and preservation area for nearly-extinct indigenous species through the creation of a closed evergreen forest canopy over as much land as possible.
Island reports that NFA stewards have planted several thousand tree saplings on the new plots, and constructed fencing to protect against the destruction of new plants by grazing animals. Also, a collectively managed evergreen nursery and seed orchard have been set up at Fertile Field to provide sufficient seedlings for the sanctuary forest. On the Fertile Field new plots, stewards Jan and Jana report that they have planted 1500 tree seedlings in the past two years since the purchase of the new land. Jana comments on one plot: “If you walk on this plot it is starting to get the feeling of a young forest. The seedlings are doing well and 80% to 90% survived the long period without rain from last December till July this year. Another plot became like a small forest … we noticed many deer tracks on the land, so we leave the land as a sanctuary and it is also a nice wild corridor to Baraka our neighbour.” Two other new plots in Fertile Field were previously cashew fields that are now being repurposed, as Jana notes: “We planted about 500 seedlings and we also see regeneration from the trees of the nearby old forest on this land. The seedlings are about one metre high now.”
Pitchandikulam Forest, another recipient of donation-funded plots, is greatly respected for its work in afforestation, the re-creation of biodiversity, and its leadership in bio-regional training. It is located in the South East of the Residential Zone with its mostly low-density residential communities stretching into the greenbelt. Resident Fabian writes: “Two of the newly-acquired plots are well-connected to the already protected and fenced area and are seamlessly integrated into the work done over the last four decades. The work on another new plot – close to our windmill providing the water for the nursery – started already last year whereas the planting for another one only began with the rains we received in September. In both cases we carry on planting the local TDEF (Tropical Dry Evergreen Forest) as experience has shown that it is the most suitable forest type for our local context.” Parts of another plot have been planted as an arboretum. The team uses the seedlings grown in the Pitchandikulam nursery. Fabian points out the difficulties they face with decreasing water levels in the wells and other challenges when living and protecting the sensitive forest: “But, of course, one equally can write about the privilege to live in such a beautiful environment, the satisfaction to be involved in the work of afforestation, and the joy of working together with and learning from the team of men and women affiliated with Pitchandikulam since many years.” The new plot purchased to be absorbed into Revelation Forest Sanctuary will build upon intense work that’s been done there. Steward Patrick reports: “We bunded and planted it, but half of it is a ravine and so we built a dam there. This plot is the critical element in Revelation’s land use, contributing to the infiltration of half a million litres of water minimum per year, achieving zero runoff loss on a 60-hectare watershed. Previously, 90% of the water was lost to evaporation.”
The City area – land for consolidation and essential infrastructure
Auroville’s City area is the central hub of the township, with the Matrimandir at its heart. Several new plots have been purchased with the goals of protecting the sanctity of the Matrimandir area, continuing harmonious consolidation, and creating needed infrastructure. Two of the new donations-purchased plots in the City Area are located just beyond the Matrimandir’s outer gardens. One of them, stewarded by the Land Board, consolidates an important sector of Mahalakshmi Park, enabling the creation of a direct pathway to Matrimandir from the Surrender-Grace-Arka area.
Another plot, stewarded by Auroville’s CSR (Center for Scientific Research), is dedicated to the Residential Zone’s water needs, and provides an innovative solution to both sewage treatment and water conservation. The sixty cubic metre treatment plant has been operational since the beginning of this year and serves eight communities along the Vikas radial, providing treated irrigation water for 450 inhabitants. Each community is linked through a return pipe line with an irrigation outlet. Leftover treated water is stored in four tanks situated just behind Mahalakshmi Park with a capacity of 200 cubic metres. Tency reports that the treated water will be available for irrigation around Matrimandir and Center area communities, thereby “reducing the need for pumping fresh water for irrigation purposes, thereby saving ground water resources.”
Auroville has an urgent need for housing, especially for its enthusiastic younger generations who want to build their lives in the City of Dawn. Donations have provided the land on which 26 new housing units were built for Auroville’s new youth community, Kriya. Its 14 single units, 6 family houses, and 6 couple units are destined for Newcomers and Aurovilians aged 20-35, who are working fulltime for Auroville. Housing Service representative Ole reports that this housing is particularly welcome for second-generation Aurovilians who mostly have no financial resources outside of their Auroville maintenance stipends. As part of the Youth Habitat Programme, the housing was built by the Auroville construction group Sumark, with construction costs provided by the Government of India. The units come with full infrastructure, including an advanced wastewater recycling system. The Kriya plots also host the workshops of Sumark and of TreeCare, a unit of young Auroville arborists. The construction of two more housing units on the new land has recently been approved. One young Kriya resident wrote: “I would like to take this opportunity to express my immense gratitude for giving me a place to experience Kriya. It surely has taken off some burden from the shoulders of us young and fundless new Aurovilians who face a housing need.”
The donations have also made possible a consolidating plot near the Solar Kitchen, while another plot adds to the consolidation of the International Zone area: a magical spot now being given new life by steward Rajendran, whose work includes producing medicinal plants.
We salute the work of all the stewards who are developing and protecting Auroville’s Master Plan land.
Horizons for the land and the continued funding need
Auroville’s Land Board hopes to announce more good news soon, all made possible by donors’ generosity to A4A. But the job is far from done. Still missing is 8% of the city’s designated land and approximately 68 % of the Greenbelt. Land Board member Renu writes: “Every year with donor’s help the Land Board has worked on purchasing and consolidating lands for Auroville. We face enormous hurdles on many levels but we are committed to protecting and purchasing land for the realisation of Her dream. We thank donors for their support.”
For those visitors to Auroville in early 2019, the fundraising initiative Art for Land Year 5 (January 5th – February 21st) exhibition and auction will be taking place at the Unity Pavilion.
The Acres for Auroville Team
(Aryadeep, Mandakini, Jothi, Joël),
in coordination with Auroville’s Land Board