The ‘Palmyra Centre for Ecological Land Use and Rural Development’, located in Aurobrindavan, oversees a Rural Development Project funded by the DIK/OIK, Germany, which includes improvement in the standard of education for school children, physical education programmes, and the support of sports and health care activities.
Another 5-year project, on integrated wasteland development, is being funded by the Ministry of Rural Development in 21 villages in the Vanur & Marakkanam areas.
The Palmyra Training Centre is conducting training programmes for farmers, NGOs and government officers, as well as regular training programmes for Forestry Service officers from all over India, funded by the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests. Today Palmyra houses a large tree nursery, a modest computer centre, and a unit for video editing in support of its work.
Since the inception of Auroville, during the past 32 years, considerable work has been undertaken by members of the Auroville community and their associates in the fields of afforestation, soil and water conservation and rural development. With the start of the Palmyra centre in 1990 we are giving special emphasis to apply gained experiences and make them available to villagers in our area and beyond.
Likewise, by promoting sustainable and ecological land use methods we see ourselves partaking in an ever growing movement to support autonomous developmental processes worldwide, aiming to use local resources and traditional knowledge as well as newly discovered concepts to an optimal degree, therewith improving esteem and livelihood of the local people.
Over the last few years we have extended our expertise to a number of related areas. Our organisation today houses a large tree-nursery, a soil and water testing laboratory, a modest computer centre and a new unit for video editing. We also have a training hall and a few rooms for participants attending our regular training programmes. Our team comprises experienced activists, well respected members of the organic farming community, scientists and scores of village youth who participate in sports activities and volunteer regularly for work in other areas.
The approach Palmyra has adopted over the years is one that relies heavily on evaluating quantitatively the various parameters that may affect a given activity or intervention.
As most of our work pertains to reclaiming wasted and degraded lands, secondary data collection in the project areas, a combination of participatory mapping and problem identification is combined with structured schedules and geographical information systems to determine project scope areas.
We are currently compiling detailed data-bases of natural resources and socio-economic parameters in our project villages. Partnerships with experts and consultants from other organisations (Pondicherry University, TIDE - Bangalore, FERAL - Pondicherry) and individuals ensure that the data collection and analysis is of a high quality.
In 1999 Palmyra has been granted a five year project by the Indo Canada Environment Facility (ICEF) with an outlay of 9.6 crores of Indian rupees. ICEF is a joint initiative of the Government of India and Government of Canada. This project will comprise the Rehabilitation of Integrated Tank Management Systems in the Kalliveli Watershed in the Villupuram District of Tamil Nadu.
Under this project Palmyra/ICEF will contribute 70% of the total cost required for the tank rehabilitation work, whereas landholders in the command area (ayacutdaars) put in a 30% contribution. The work schedule will be decided upon prioritywise, keeping in mind the contributions collected.
The money collected will be deposited in a joint bank account (a member each from Palmyra and the Water User Group will be joint signatories). The account will be open for both parties for verification at any given time. This is to ensure accountability of the money for both the parties.
Palmyra's emphasis will be in the active participation of all the members of the association for the tank work so that in future they will be able to maintain their tank independently.
For sustainable management of the tank system it is necessary to evolve adequate water use strategies. These should result in a judicious use of water so that production is optimised taking into account equity in access to water for all farmers in the command area of the tank. In fact it implies farmers' inherent control and management over the water use regime, resulting in an open and participatory decision making and a responsible implementing mechanism.
Participation will also extend to facilitating of data collection, collation and analysis for which training will be provided to attain self sufficiency on all fronts. Information collected on social economy, agriculture, soil, water, vegetation etc. would be housed at village resource centres, which would help in planning, decision making and monitoring of activities and resources. We believe dissemination of information is the key to empower villagers to manage not only their water resources but all other natural resources as well.
The formation of WUA will ensure that the management of the tank becomes the responsibility of every farmer; therewith providing a sustainable basis for the future of the tank management.
Palmyra will also take up activities with the village women, youth and landless persons in an effort to improve their socioeconomic standard.
The purpose of bringing women, youth and landless persons together is to provide them with skills and training programmes which will enhance their earning capabilities. Organisation of awareness programmes and exposure visits will broaden their knowledge about environmental and other vital issues.
With the support of the German and Austrian Centres we have been able to maintain our Rural Development Programmes within a larger area of 720 sq.km. in which land use based and the rehabilitation of large irrigation tanks are the main activities.
Activities which receive special attention are the support of education and the building of educational infrastructure such as schools, compound walls and toilets within the school perimeter. It has been our experience that with the official school system being pushed beyond its limits support of any effort to improve education with the aim to give equal opportunities to every child in this world is a "must" which cannot be denied. Every child has a right to be given the chance to develop its inherent strength to its fullest potential.
Recently we have started to organise a number of medical camps in collaboration with a voluntary organisation from Tindivanam. Doctors contribute their work for free, only medicals have to be paid from Palmyra. The programmes cover Aids awareness, dental and eye care and general medical camps including additional trans-port for Polio vaccination whenever needed. Approximately more than 10 thousand people are benefitting from these activities.
We have also constructed two fair price shops in Edayanchavadi and Kuilapalayam. This greatly cuts down basic food expenditure for a lot of people and reduces time and energy spent in traveling to different places.
All of Palmyra's projects are people centered and active participation as well as monetary contributions to funded projects are a necessity. This is equally true for projects such as buildings of schools, planting of trees and the rehabilitation of irrigation tanks. In more ways than one all of Palmyra's projects are interlinked and are forming part of a aspiration to restore sustainability dignity and economic well being as well as educational and sport facilities to the people in our surrounding villages.
Sports activities for local youth are another major aspect being supported by this agency. It includes different sports such as football, kabadi, volleyball and especially cricket. By now more than 30 to 40 local clubs have been supported with materials and the possibilities of holding their own local tournaments. Self contribution always lies at around 25%. The Palmyra Cricket Club as a member of the Pondicherry Cricket Association is holding Pondy League Matches on a regular schedule. We introduced a high quality turf pitch for the first time in Pondicherry where also under-15 and under-19 combined Tamil Nadu district matches are being held. We are looking forward to host inter-state matches in the near future as well.
Baraka ForestA Sanctuary for Rescued HorsesIt was the mid-70s when Vijay started planting trees in what is now Baraka. Many fruit trees were planted, and a beautiful fruit orchard was established with mangoes, tamarinds and other varieties.The community consists of 40 acres of forested land and 5 acres of orchards and residential area. It is run with solar power, there is no connection to the grid. There is only a backup generator for the solar pump that is used during the cloudy monsoon days.Acreage: 40 acres | Steward: Achilles
Nine PalmsNine Palms is an expansive forest that was started in the early days of Auroville, around 50 years ago. It protects a major canyon system and allows for percolation of rainwater. The Nine Palms dam systems hold large amounts of water as well. Agricultural activities are undertaken in certain areas, and livestock are also kept.Acreage: 62 | Stewards: Shivaji, Shanti
Shakti Nursery and HerbariumRe-creating the Indigenous ForestRain Tree, planted in 1985, with a circumference of 218 inches and a crown span of 38 m Shakti Nursery is part of a wider project that aims at re-creating the indigenous forest in the Green Belt area of Auroville.Acreage: Stewards: Walter and Luk