National Permaculture Convergence by Aranya Agriculture Alternatives | my experiences as a speaker and as a participant

Few months ago I got a mail from Mr. Narsanna Koppula inviting me for speaking at the National Permaculture Convergence (NPC) his organization Aranya Agriculture Alternatives was hosting. I will be honest in admitting that I felt my presence in the whole scheme of things a bit misplaced initially.

NPC was going to be a convergence of hardcore activists and people who are working relentlessly in the field of organic ways of farming, wasteland reclamation and all the jazz associated with growing food ethically and sustainably, preserving germplasm and opposing GM crops for all the good reasons. I asked myself how would I be able to contribute to this cause. But people associated with NPC have been following this blog and my work elsewhere and they had better idea of what they wanted from me.

Mr. Narsanna himself trains people and organizations about Permaculture design and all the other eminent speakers would be talking about issues ranging from soil, waste management, pest management, water management to the principles of Permaculture design, Biodynamic farming and Food Forests. I was invited to speak about the correlation between soil quality, food and nutrition and native and uncultivated foods in 2 separate sessions. 

After a bit of hesitation when I gave it a thought I felt I could definitely add value in terms of talking about the end product of all the ethical farming practices. The food. The way food controls our lives and the ecology at large, the way we can make choices to nourish our own body and allow the ecosystem to support sustainable farming of food crops, the way food can come from uncultivated sources and how to make the best use of it. Human health translates to the health of the planet in many ways.
I am glad I went to this National Permaculture Convergence (NPC) and attended most sessions on all three days. I got to learn so much from other knowledgeable speakers, met many people and made great friends too. It was really awe inspiring to see people from all over the globe leaving a flourishing career to start farming in remote areas, people working on water management and energy management despite time and financial constraints. Over 50 speakers shared their expertise, number of total participants was 1180 of which 700 were farmers who came from rural Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and few other parts of the country. The event was managed by 100 plus very efficient volunteers who worked for 4 months to make this event a grand success. This is how it works when likeminded people work with all their passion.

The keynote address by Dr. Vandana Shiva was quite motivating; it was wonderful to hear her speak once again about her work and concerns. Among the sessions I attended, I loved the way Prof. Sultan Ismail demystified soil for everyone and explained why the ancient wisdom of keeping cows and livestock at the farms is a way to make farming self sustaining. He also emphasized the importance of microorganisms in living soil ecosystem where a symbiosis of several organisms helps the cause.

Clea Chandmal’s sessions on developing food forests and reclaiming the soil were quite educative and eye opening. She has done several experiments and has been successful in reclaiming soil and made it fit for agriculture. 

Rosie and Peter Harding spoke about how they revived a stretch of land in Goa and have created a thriving Food Forest that gives them loads of varied produce. 

Priya Ramasubban who is an acclaimed film maker has worked on resurrecting a lake in Bangalore despite several odds. She threw light on how the water bodies play an important role in urban landscape and what measures should be taken to revive them. 

Umesh Dutt from Kheti Virasat Mission spoke about how the farmers of Punjab are so detached with their own soil that they are ready to migrate to other countries any minute. He suggested solutions and his session was quite poetic and much applauded. The only session that was translated in 2 languages.

Uzramma spoke about the journey of cotton in India. She talked about how cotton was bred and genetically modified to suit the machinery after the Industrial revolution and how the GM cotton has destroyed farms and livelihoods. Her brand Malkha had a stall at the venue and I ended up buying a saree after over a decade. Hopefully I will do justice to the saree and wear it. 

Caitlin, Sukriti and Amol are co founders of the Academy for Earth Sustainability (AES) whose mission is to promote the transition to sustainable ways of living in India through collaborative, practical and hands on learning experience. They work a lot with schools and other local community organizations. Their session showcased the work and possibilities.

Vani Murthy and Uma Kandasarma work on solid waste management and conduct workshops on home composting and rooftop gardening. I missed their session and waiting for the recorded sessions to go live on youtube.

There were many other sessions by Rico zook, Bharat Mansata, Suresh Save from Kalpavriksha, Anjali and Kabir from Yarroway Farm, Claude Alvares, Ardhendu Shekhar Chatterji, Sajaya Kakaria etc that I could not attend because there were several sessions running parallel to each other. Hopefully I will get to see all the session soon as they upload the recordings.

The best part was that I got to see how such a huge event could be managed without any plastic waste generated. They had installed many demonstration units to show grey water management, energy efficient stoves, mulching on farms, food forests, native ways of seed saving, controlled irrigation using earthen pots and many more. I could see a few children had come to attend the convergence with their parents and they were also interacting with people with all their natural curiosity. 

The food served for speakers and participants was local cuisine cooked in healthy ways. All organic food was cooked the Andhra and Telangana way and we got to taste some local delicacies. The snacks served in speakers' lounge were all made from millets and local produce.

Above 700 Farmers attended the convergence as I mentioned and there were special arrangements for translating the speakers’ lectures for them. In fact a few participants volunteered to translate a few sessions whenever the farmers demanded so. We get to see such easy camaraderie and smooth flow of ideas on very rare occasions. NPC was a great success in connecting people effortlessly.

Coming to my own sessions, my fist session was along with Dr. Laxmi Nadendla and we talked about how soil has been abused over the years and we must start choosing the right kind of foods so the demand and supply principles start working from the root level. Once we understand how the polluted soil affects food quality we will automatically start making better choices. We also talked about the ways to get optimal nutrition from everyday foods, why local and seasonal produce is better and what factors affect the nutrient availability. Both Laxmi and me emphasized on choosing real foods and discussed a few facts about chemical laden packaged food that has hijacked the sense of taste and satiety in modern world. I was extremely happy with the questions that came from the audience. I was able to ignite interest in fermented foods and people kept on asking how it works.

In my second session I wanted to make everyone think about local native produce being valued in true sense. Wild and uncultivated produce will get it's due only when we value our own produce.

It is not just important to choose local and seasonal produce for home cooking but we must be aware of the long term consequences when we travel too. As tourists when we travel to beautiful and calm, remote locations to find some peace and rejuvenate our mind, we often end up demanding aerated drinks, packaged snacks and multicuisine a la carte foods. My question has always been why we can’t enjoy the local food options available in those remote places in the mountains, forest reserves or sea side. Why we don’t enjoy the stinging nettle, local vegetables and cheeses in Sikkim, gahat and bhatt ki daal in Utttarakhand, shepu wadi and rajma in Himachal, plain sambar rice pachadi in Andhra and why do we demand only our kind of food everywhere we go? If we like a tourist destination we must respect and value the native cuisine and produce of the place as well. Else we don’t deserve to be on that land.
What I personally do is that I always visit local markets and talk to the people who cook in the kitchens of places we are staying wherever we go. Ask about what food of their own is being cooked and appreciate the food and produce. I never had a bad food experience while eating local, we have enough options everywhere to suit our needs.

Not demanding a burger, pizza or pasta in remote travel destinations is a great service, not buying packaged produce and bottled aerated drinks is a great move towards letting the place stay serene and not demanding our own home cuisine in those regional kitchens is the way to respect the place we are visiting. In my session on wild, uncultivated and native foods I emphasized on how we can make the locals feel proud of the food they grow and eat, so they don’t feel compelled to adopt the packaged foods in a bid to feel Sanskritised.
I have experienced there is a lot of snobbery related to food habits and we keep judging people and communities by what they cook and eat. It leads to all regional cultures who start adopting a singular way of eating packaged and 'contemporary' foods which is sadly accepted and promoted by all urban cultures and villagers feel it is more desirable.

My experience of Uttarakhand Amaranthfarmers eating Maggi in their fields is a glaring example of the same forces of Sankritisation working, fueled by market economy of course. Making the native, local foods desirable is the aim. Making them fashionable will be wonderful.
I am fortunate that this session on native, wild and uncultivated foods got a great response and the hall was full of very focused people who kept asking relevant questions. The session went on for 2 hours even though the allotted time was 1.5 hours, and the audience wanted more. I am grateful to the audience too to reinforce my belief into the cause, they connected with me so well that I am hopeful about more people thinking the same way. 

Both these sessions and other sessions by prominent speakers 
will be available on youtube soon. I shall share the links whenever available and will appreciate any feedback from you all. 

Many thanks to the team NPC, Madhu Reddy, Praveen Abhishetty, Sneha Shetty, Faiyaz, Narsana Koppula and Padma Koppula for hosting and organizing such a wonderful convergence of great minds. 

All pictures are taken from NPC social media shares after mandatory permission.  


  1. Hi Sangeeta. This was a big event indeed. Yes. Very much necessary that people realise the mportance and benefits of organic farming, waste management etc. Inspite of two small balconies, that I have, I try to grow, more for fun and pleasure, small lil plants like palak, chilli, capsicums, malbar spinach, onions, tomato etc. Its real fun. Trying manure making at the moment :)

  2. A very engaging post for me sangeeta, working in developmental field in which issues of human infrastructure, livelihoods, hunger and sanitation are intrinsically linked to each other, this event seems to me something I would have loved to attend.....
    Dr. Vandana Shiva is someone I really admire for her practical approach to activism.
    Malkha is a brand which has successfully come out of ngo/co-operative approach and taken the visionary stand of being a 'brand' which needs to generate profit, today it holds exhibition on its own and is very well known (i have lots of yardage from them)....

    Coming to your point on having local produce on travels, I could not agree more!! I have had the best meals in the field during my work site visits which were local cuisine (highlight has been my north karnataka thali meals in small IBs of pwd).

    1. Another International Permaculture Convergence happening next year Sushmita. You must attend that one. Yes I love Malkha too and have bought loads of yardage from them. Saree was pure greed but I am sure I will wear it soon.

      Local meals cooked by the locals cannot match any chain restaurants that are mushrooming all over the hillsides and whatever place possible.
      Thanks for commenting.


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