[Weekend Wise] Stories of Sustainability — Edition 3

How much of one’s life does one have to change in order to live sustainably? The answer lies partly in how many of your current practices you are willing to unlearn so as to re-learn how to live more mindfully.

The third edition of Aikyam’s Earth Friendly Choices series on 16th July, 2016 saw speakers spanning the spectrum — architecture, organic farming, eco-friendly textiles and sustainable livelihoods. But, what united the 4 speakers was their decision to let go of their past ways of living and switch over to more sustainable practices. What’s more, they are also spreading the movement and adopting others into its fold.

Speaker 1: Trupti Doshi - Architect & Integrated Sustainability Engineer

The opening talk by Trupti Doshi was an eloquent and moving account of her participatory approach to building the Sharanam Rural Development Centre in Pondicherry using earth-friendly materials and construction practices. Recognised by UNEP as a model green building, the centre’s colossal earth vault, made with no supporting framework, is a marvel of modern architecture.

Left: The vault of Sharanam Rural development Centre; Right: Trupti and team    Source

Left: The vault of Sharanam Rural development Centre; Right: Trupti and team Source

Doshi took us through the entire process, from the design and conceptualisation phase to the final finishing of the structure, highlighting the absence of energy-intensive cement and steel and the focus on leaving zero debris during construction. To achieve triple bottom line in a truly meaningful way, she trained 450 local villagers in 20 high-level, hands-on building techniques, upgrading their skills and making them employable. She, joined by the new trainees, co-created the structure foundation up, including the highly precise and complex arch. With a few lines from Shri Aurobindo’s epic poem ‘Savitri’, we were left to ponder over how our search for a sustainable future is taking us back to an ancient way of living which is as much about respecting the earth as it is about respecting the many others who co-inhabit it with us.

Speaker 2: Dinesh Sastry: IT professional and organic farmer

Left: Nesara Farmhouse; Right: Recycling glass bottles into bricks Source:    Facebook

Left: Nesara Farmhouse; Right: Recycling glass bottles into bricks Source: Facebook

Sastry’s experience highlights the power of the citizen change-maker and exemplifies the relearning that is integral to sustainable living. Convinced that the shelters on his Nesara Farm had to echo the principles of simple, organic, low-impact living practised on the rest of the farm, he set about learning how to build 2 basic, rammed earth structures himself with minimal professional assistance. With no architectural expertise or experience, his was an endeavour guided by persistence and dedication to sustainable living. Every step of the way, he chose to overlook conventional, often more easily available materials and chose alternatives that would reduce waste and lower his carbon footprint. Sastry’s farmhouse is a curious mix of local materials like forest rock and clay jaali tiles and interestingly repurposed glass bottle bricks and wooden packaging.

Speaker 3: Sharada Ganesh — Charaka Co-operative Society

Women weavers at the Charaka Collective Source:    Facebook

Women weavers at the Charaka Collective Source: Facebook

The Charaka Co-operative Society in Heggodu, started by veteran theatre artiste, Prasanna, is well-known as the one of epicentres of the handloom- weaving movement in India. Ganesh spoke about the socio-economic impact that Charaka and its sister concern, the Desi Trust have had on rural women’s lives by promoting handloom-weaving as an economically viable livelihood option.

Charaka, collectively owned by women weavers, is India’s leading producer of naturally-dyed fabrics. It plays an important role in preserving the practice of handloom weaving, through its many decentralised units across Karnataka. It also powerfully advocates protecting the shrinking handloom sector from the powerloom lobby and making it attractive to an urban audience. Its recent movement, Youth for Simple Living, is an attempt to motivate Indian youth to think and act in more sustainable ways.

Speaker 4: Bhaskara Kempaiah — Organic Mandya

The growing farmer suicides in Mandya led IT professional Bhaskara Kempaiah to leave his career behind and co-found Organic Mandya along with four others. To reduce the damning effect of mono-cropping, high input costs and severe debt among farmers, Organic Mandya brings them together under a co-operative society to collectively grow and control supply and prices of their produce. What began with 350 small farmers in 2015 has steadily grown into a movement of 55 village level farmers’ clubs, each having 30–40 members, with a total cultivation of 2500 acres. Organic Mandya provides farmers with training and technical support required to switch over to organic, zero-budget, integrated farming. On its model farm, the OM team carries out experiments and tests new crop varieties and organic inputs.

Left: Organic farming; Right: Organic produce at the Organic Mandya store Source:    Facebook

Left: Organic farming; Right: Organic produce at the Organic Mandya store Source: Facebook

In order to make the model financially viable and attractive to farmers, a store on the Bangalore-Mysore highway stocks the fresh and processed produce (jaggery etc.) grown by the farmers. While its primary focus is on the supply side, to meet the growing demand for organic food, the brand also reaches out to urban dwellers with its ‘sweat-donation’ and farm-stay programmes which allow people to spend a day on the farm, see how their food is grown and participate in its cultivation.

As city-dwellers become more aware of the hazards of modern ways of consumption, there is a movement towards healthier and safer ways of living. Events like Aikyam’s Stories of Sustainability help create communities of individuals seeking change and catalyse their knowledge for more concerted action. Because living sustainably can never be a solitary effort.

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Featured image via Nesara Farm.

This post is in partnership with Aikyam - a volunteer driven community that takes the discourse on sustainability mainstream.