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Hariyali, renewing lives in Araku

Mahindra Group's Project Hariyali, launched in 2007, focusses on improving India's green cover and protecting biodiversity. Today, 13 years later, the Group has planted over 18 million trees and reforested the Araku Valley creating new means of livelihood for Adivasi farmers. With the help of this project, the Adivasi community is enhancing biodiversity and a healthy ecosystem - a testament to the spirit of our commitment to social and environmental sustainability.

Suribabu Korra, his wife Singaramma and their four children reside in Gonduru village, in Hukumpeta, in the remote Araku region of Andhra Pradesh. Every day, Suribabu toils on the four acres of land he has, tending to his fruit plants and coffee shrubs and making sure every farming protocol is followed. He is always looking to learn new ways and share his knowledge with his community. Suribabu can now expect his land to yield more and his income to increase thanks to a new cropping strategy he adopted six years ago.

Like many of the Adivasi community in the Araku region, the Korra family used to live hand to mouth till a decade ago. Their land was not very fertile. Suribabu would grow rajma and other seasonal pulses, which would earn him a meagre INR 3,500 a year. This was the additional produce sold in the local weekly markets after his family's consumption needs were met. In this region, the tribal farmers grow paddy, vegetables and pulses for their own consumption. There is not much left for selling in the market. The government provides them with a monthly ration kit.

Life began to change when Suribabu joined the Mahindra Hariyali project. Having attended the village community sessions where details about the Hariyali programme with focus on planting a diverse variety of saplings were explained, Suribabu's family expressed their interest and enrolled for 2014 planting. He received several fruit and tree plants. He has earmarked one acre of land for the project from his total owned land and now grows custard apple, mosambi, lime and oranges. The fruits from these trees now give him an income of around INR 5,500 annually. He grows paddy for his own consumption in another half-acre, and plants millets and vegetables in half an acre. One acre is kept for growing pulses while the last acre is most important for him financially - he has planted coffee bushes in it. Suribabu and many other farmers in Araku are looking at a very different future after they switched over to these plants.

A story of change

The past few decades have seen soil erosion and depletion of topsoil, due to deforestation. The degraded land and denuded hillsides rendered the Adivasi families impoverished. The region has been characterised by low literacy, high maternal mortality and low agricultural productivity.

The 15 millionth tree planted by Ulhas Yargop, Member of the Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra Limited

This Araku region became part of the focus of the Hariyali Project of the Mahindra Group in 2010, a CSR initiative for environmental sustainability, which the company had launched on October 2, 2007, with the target of planting a million trees every year.

Sensing that the Araku region had immense potential, the Mahindra Group along with French food major Danone, and the non-profit Naandi Foundation, set out to recreate a functional forest in this part of the Eastern Ghats.

The idea was to plant six million fruit and forest trees that would help improve the Adivasi farmer families' livelihood. The saplings provided to farmers include guava, mango, custard apple, orange, lemon, papaya, sapota, moringa, neem, bamboo and teak.

Volunteers came forward at a tree planting drive

Suribabu was one of the early adopters in his village. Along with providing saplings, the Naandi Foundation also trained the farmers in farm and plant management practices. Suribabu received monthly training sessions on seasonal farm activities such as mulching, weeding, pruning and pest control. They are also supported with the Naandi's organic plus bioinoculant sprays like C100, BLACK100 and WHITE100 - all designed to improve the overall plant and farm health.

Today, Suribabu acknowledges the importance of trees and plants that have given his family a new lease of life. He says, "It helped me to understand that the forest belongs to us and that we have to protect it."

Once the fruit trees are fully mature, Suribabu expects his income from fruit to double to around INR 10,000. In the shade of the fruit and forest trees, the family has intercropped ginger, turmeric, coriander and rajma, which has become an additional source of income.

Farmers harvesting coffee at a coffee farm in Kabada Bodaput village in Dumbriguda Mandal, Araku

But he expects coffee to be the biggest source for earnings soon. Araku Coffee has made a mark in the coffee world and has even debuted in Paris. The coffee from Suribabu's plot is supplied to SAMTFMACS (Small and Marginal Tribal Farmers Mutually Aided Cooperative Society) at approximately 200 percent premium above coffee commodity price. Suribabu grows pepper on the shade trees around the coffee shrubs, and that fetches him Rs 60,000 per annum.

Taking action

Hariyali's efforts from the start have been to build on the strengths of the adivasi community. The project aimed to help the farmer families create their own fruit and forest trees portfolio to sustain a healthy and rich ecosystem. The first few years were spent preparing the groundwork. First, degraded lands owned by farmers were identified. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was undertaken with the Village Development Committees towards the implementation of the project. The team prepared overall land use sketches for each village and created awareness among the farmers.

The plantations in the Araku region are implemented and monitored by the Naandi Foundation. Naandi helps with engagement with local communities. It monitors sapling survival rates and undertakes replacement of saplings as and when required.

The farmer families in Araku are keen to reforest the area and improve soil fertility

The involvement of the local community has been particularly crucial to the project's success. At Suribabu's village Gonduru, villagers are keen to reforest the area after having witnessed the effects of deforestation and uncontrolled grazing. With sustained efforts at replanting lost forests, they have noticed a visible improvement in soil fertility. Moreover, crops such as pepper and fruit trees provide nutritional security as well as income security.

The numbers of Araku tell an incredible story. In 2019 alone, the project planted 1,129,039 saplings of coffee and fruit, forest shade trees covering an area of five mandals and 295 villages. With this help, the farmer families of Araku hope to bring back the lost glory of their forest lands.

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