Project GreenHands: The People Behind 30 Million Saplings
For over a decade, the people of Tamil Nadu have been working on a very unique revolution – a green revolution to reverse the degradation of the environment and restore ecological balance. These people are farmers, students, corporate employees, government officials, housewives, tradesmen, craftsmen, shop owners – from every walk of life, people have been inspired to take the future of their land into their hands.
Isha’s Project GreenHands (PGH) has played an integral part in this crucial effort by providing people with guidance, saplings, education and inspiration. Since 2004, PGH has enabled millions of people to plant over 30 million saplings.
PGH hopes to help the people of Tamil Nadu increase the green cover of the state by 10%. This will help reverse desertification, reduce soil erosion, restore self-sufficiency, recreate sustainability and survive climate change.
Here are a few amazing stories about the wonderful people who are determined to achieve this mission.
A Hopeless Farmer Takes a Chance
Sakthi Prasanna, a farmer from the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, reminisces about his first interaction with Project GreenHands.
“Today when I look at my lovely land, ten acres full of trees and greenery, my heart is full of pride and satisfaction. My heart swells with gratitude to Isha. I still remember my state of mind when I first saw their advertisement in Pasumai Vikatan (a Tamil magazine for the farming community) – it was an ad about the availability of saplings in Isha’s nurseries and offered a free consultancy to farmers on the benefits of planting trees in farmlands.
Imagine me reading this just when I was on the verge of giving up farming! In the last few years, after the implementation of MNREGA (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), I couldn’t find enough labor to sustain my farm. On top of that, the plants were dying because of lack of water. The Project GreenHands ad seemed promising. ‘Nothing to lose!’ I thought.
I called up the number in the advertisement and spoke to a PGH consultant. After listening to my story, he explained the concept of agroforestry and told me what I could do, and how they could help me.
In a few days, a PGH team visited my farm to observe and analyze the soil, water conditions and weather. Accordingly, they suggested the species most suitable for my land. I then visited the PGH nursery in Tiruvannamalai to get the saplings. On their advice, I planted saplings of timber trees such as teak, red sander, malai vembu and vengai, and all of them grew well. Planting trees instead of doing full-fledged agriculture has saved my life because I have been able to sustain it with minimum labor.
Till date, I have planted 550 trees provided by the nursery, with a 90% survival rate. As advised by Isha, I have been following the inter-cropping method and purchased a small tractor for weeding and a ladder for pruning purposes – this makes my work simpler and easier.
What in 2012 was a dwindling farm, is now a role model for other farmers in and around my village!”
An Astrologer with the Heart of a Farmer
Nanda Kumar, a tree-planting enthusiast from Erode, had no idea where to start or how to give expression to his passion for growing trees.
“By profession, I am an astrologer! But my heart is in farming, and my passion is to grow trees,” said Nanda Kumar, his voice heavy with conviction. “So, on a suggestion from a friend, I visited a Project GreenHands nursery, and I was astonished to see the quality of saplings they produce. These saplings were literally thriving.
I was amazed when I was told that to grow the saplings, they use only organic growth catalysts and no chemicals at all. In today’s world, no chemicals? I was in shock. It sounded too good to be true, and I definitely wanted to know more. I immediately got in touch with a PGH consultant and things started rolling. Today, I am delighted to say that I have 2000 trees thriving in my eight acres of farmland.”
Take a Sapling, Grow a Tree, Shape a Life
“I had a sparrow as a pet but it flew away one day. Then I had a squirrel but it ran away too. Then I planted a tree and they both came back.” – Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, former President of India
Sakthi Prasanna and Nanda are among several thousand farmers whom Project GreenHands supports by providing high-quality saplings and free consultation. Many farmers plant trees to earn their livelihood, while others do it to fulfill their passion. Whatever their reason, all efforts ultimately contribute to increasing the green cover in Tamil Nadu.
Does Isha Plant Trees?
A common misconception among many is that PGH itself plants trees. That is not true. PGH does not generally plant trees. It is members of the public who plant trees. PGH only seeks to make people aware of their intimate relationship with nature and support them in their tree-planting endeavors.
Whether a farmer, an NGO, schoolchildren, a corporate, educational institutions or the general public, PGH creates an inclusive, innovative platform for all to plant trees in a way most suited to them – farmers for earning, children for bonding, companies for motivating their employees, and others to just nurture life.
4 million quality saplings of over 65 different species are diligently grown in 40 nurseries across Tamil Nadu. These are then distributed for the public to plant, after the appropriate awareness programs.
PGH volunteers find innovative ways to distribute saplings to inspire and involve people in planting trees, with the hope of creating a greener planet for the present and future generations. Saplings are even distributed in marriage ceremonies, special occasions and public functions. Last year, inspired couples gifted a total of one million saplings to guests during their weddings – a living gift that will be with them for life.
Planting Trees in People’s Minds
“Planting a tree is an enormous expression of love. You never know if you will enjoy its shade or fruits, but you know someone will.” – Sadhguru
Before PGH took off, Isha had spent many years “planting trees in people’s minds,” as Sadhguru says. Sadhguru explains, “Now that it is rooted in people’s minds, it will happen on the land quite effortlessly.”
Since PGH’s inception in 2004, over 30 million saplings have been planted in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry by farmers, students and the general public. PGH nurseries are spread across the state, where quality saplings are grown with love and care. These saplings are given to people after they are educated through awareness programs and other interventions.
Hundreds of awareness programs are held every year throughout Tamil Nadu, and some in other states. These range from a 1-hour seminar to months of hands-on intense involvement depending upon the need of the people. Such intensive work ensures that the saplings grow well, ensuring a high survival rate.
Not Just Trees
PGH and Isha’s efforts regarding the environment go beyond providing saplings for planting.
For example, since 2002, Isha has taken efforts to preserve the sanctity and ecology of the sacred Velliangiri mountains in Tamil Nadu, by organizing regular treks where volunteers clear litter on the mountain. Isha also provides pilgrims trekking up the mountain with cloth bags to put their litter in, allowing them to make their pilgrimage while leaving the natural surroundings untouched.
PGH also works with farmers to educate and support them in practicing natural farming techniques. These methods offer eco-friendly alternatives to pesticide use and other destructive practices.
Joining Hands With Other Organizations
Right from its inception, PGH has collaborated with other organizations and concerned individuals. In fact, in its early days, PGH got a boost from Dr. G. Nammalvar, the renowned environmentalist who worked for half a century on the environment and sustainable agriculture. From points such as choosing the species endemic to the region to aspects such as community involvement, Dr. Nammalvar guided PGH and played a key role as project advisor. His guidance in tree planting as well as the Isha Agro Movement – an initiative focusing on sustainable agriculture – is invaluable.
Over the next few years, several award-winning non-profits, internationally-recognized corporates, and government departments such as the Yves Rocher Foundation, Indian Overseas Bank, Suzlon Foundation, Sony India Private Limited, Pharmazell, Karur Vysya Bank and the Tamil Nadu State Education Department have joined hands with Isha. In fact, PGH is the Yves Rocher Foundation’s largest planting partner.
These donors choose various projects they wish to contribute to, such as sapling distribution, organic farming, agroforestry, the Green School Movement, etc. Regular progress reports are sent to PGH’s partners to help them stay in touch with the activity and assess future contributions.
Project GreenHands Awards
PGH has won a number of awards, a few of which have been listed below.
What Others Say About Us
Government of India Press Release about Indira Gandhi Paryavaran Puraskar
The UN’s Billion Tree Campaign details PGH’s involvement (pdf – page 48)
The Yves Rocher Foundation on their Collaboration with PGH
The Hindu newspaper covers Isha’s Velliangiri Hills cleaning campaign
Editor’s Note: Learn more and get involved with different PGH initiatives by visiting Project GreenHands’ Facebook page.