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Aviram Rozin founded Sadhna Forests to improve food security in dryland areas

Degraded forests attract Sadhna

Patricia Mukhim, Shillong

Published: Feb. 25, 2021
Updated: Feb. 25, 2021

JUST as the doctor ordered, Meghalaya’s large tracts of landscape made barren by topsoil run-off due to heavy rainfall, is poised for a holistic transformation.

The brainchild of an Israeli and funded by Japan, this ambitious `660-crore project currently underway in Mawlyngot village, some 47 km from here, is a potential game-changer for adding forest cover and livelihood improvement through community ownership of the assets created by this out-of-the-box initiative.

Seventeen years ago Aviram Rozin, an Israeli citizen, his wife and two daughters came to India and visited Rishikesh in Uttarakhand where he lived in an ashram.

Rozin was a successful clinical psychologist and had helped set up one of the leading hospitals in Israel. But he felt an inner calling for something deeper and wanted to be of service to humanity. That calling manifested itself in helping forests regenerate through a series of actions which include training communities living around areas where forests have been denuded.

Let’s start this heart-warming story at the beginning.

Rozin founded an NGO called Sadhna Forests of which he is international director. The primary aim of the NGO is to improve food security in dryland areas through environmental transformation. Sadhna Forests is now based in Auroville, Puducherry, and has worked to rejuvenate several wastelands in Tamil Nadu into rich forests.

Sadhna Forests works in India, Haiti and Kenya. In 2010 the NGO started work in Haiti and in 2014 in Kenya. It was supported by a grant from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for wasteland reclamation. This helped turn arid land in Kenya into forests where 166 species of trees and plants and 75 species of birds have now found homes in the forests.

Sadhna Forests has been invited to help give shape to the Meghalaya Community Led Landscape Management Project (CLLMP) funded by the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The objective of the `660-crore project is to restore and conserve forests and natural resources of the village communities through sustainable forest management, livelihood improvement and strengthening institutional development to enhance the capabilities of the communities in contributing to conservation of environment, biodiversity, and improvement of the socio-economic conditions of people in Meghalaya.

Rozin and his team of 12 are at present camping in Mawlyngot where they have started training the community in conservation by using Swale technology. Mawlyngot has acres of barren land since communities are highly dependent on firewood for cooking and charcoal for heating.

The Sadhna Forests team arrived in Meghalaya two months ago and has since been camping in Mawlyngot. In the East Khasi Hills, the village is known for Urlong Tea. The team is using the facilities of the Urlong Tea Guest House and has pitched tents outside to accommodate all 12 members. To assist in their mobility, they have bought two of the old Meghalaya city buses which they have transformed into caravans, complete with a kitchen, bathroom and sleeping area.

Rozin says, “We don’t want to live in government or private guest houses. We live a frugal life, eat vegetarian meals and are happiest when we are with the communities we work with. The two buses which are being renovated will help us move across  Meghalaya where we are pursuing our goal of forest regeneration.”

One of the buses has solar panels fitted on both sides. The solar power helps in providing lighting and heating and powers their computers and other gadgets since electricity plays truant frequently in the villages.

Explaining Swale technology, Rozin said, “I had heard a lot about how water from Meghalaya flows down to Bangladesh and that challenged me. The Swale concept is designed to manage water run-off, filter pollutants, and increase rainwater infiltration. You don’t wait for the water to run down a slope and trap it there. You prevent the run-off right from the top of the slope.”

Rozin and his wife demonstrated how the Swales had been dug by the communities and how they have been training people in the nearby village of Lewrynghep to prevent soil from drying up by covering the beds with mulch.

“When the soil is too sticky it does not support good crops. I also find that soil here lacks nitrogen, hence we need to plant nitrogen fixing plants. Also, the soil needs to be covered with mulch to prevent drying. That’s what we have been teaching people in the villages to do and they are coming to us asking us to tell them more about better farming methods. This means they are ready to receive information. We are not pushing information down their throats,” Rozin explained.

It was inspirational to watch the team having their meals together in the lawn outside. There is a short period of silence and thanksgiving before partaking of the food cooked by the team members. Every member is deeply invested in the programme. Rozin’s wife, Yurit, is a solid teammate. She has very clear goals on what community training is all about. “We have to start with love and empathy and no blame. Only then can we expect behavioural change in the community. A rich person is one who can give,” she says empathetically. 

Courtesy: Shillong Times

 

Comments

  • Chandralekha Anand Sio

    Chandralekha Anand Sio - Feb. 28, 2021, 2:51 p.m.

    Very enterprising and a much needed effort. Should be supported by local people and organisations.

  • Mallika Sarabhai

    Mallika Sarabhai - Feb. 26, 2021, 11:32 a.m.

    What a heart warming story