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International Permaculture Convergence, India

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Photo by Robin Clayfield
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Clockwise from top: Some of the Australian contingent; Narsanna explaining the process of growing food for the convergnce; The outdoor bathroom; Cotton spinning in the traditional skills village; Sharon Gibson sharing her passion for pigeon peas; Robin Clayfield learning about traditional farming practices. Photos by Robyn Rosenfeldt

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International permaculture convergences (IPCs) are an opportunity for people from all over the world to get together and share their passion for permaculture. With 1200 participants from over 60 countries at the latest IPC held in India last November and December, there was a wide representation from across the globe.

Bill Mollison and Robyn Francis came to India 30 years ago and taught the first PDC (permaculture design course). One of their first students on that course was Narsanna Koppula, who went on to create Aranya Farm. He has transformed a semi-arid wasteland into a productive and thriving demonstration farm, where he teaches and spreads the word of permaculture.

Narsanna has been instrumental in establishing permaculture in India, and from what I could see, there is a thriving permaculture movement there (so important when you have companies like Monsanto coming in and taking over). Narsanna and his wife Padma were responsible for this conference and convergence, and what an amazing job they did. In a country where things don’t always go to plan or run on time, they assembled an amazing program with the help of a team of hard working volunteers.

There was a two-day conference held in the city of Hyderabad, which is in the centre of southern India. It is the fifth largest city in India and like all Indian cities, it’s a bustling, busy, chaotic place. The conference was held at the Telaganda State Agricultural College which contained the auditorium and residential sites where we were staying.

The program consisted of several keynote speakers, including Indian activist and scholar Vandana Shiva, who talked about the onslaught of genetic engineering and huge companies like Monsanto taking over. Robyn Francis talked about women as agents of change, one of the sub-themes of the convergence; it was great to see the celebration of women through the program. Narsanna spoke about Aranya Farm and the growth of permaculture in India, and David Holmgren called in via Skype. Then the conference split off into smaller rooms for a range of talks by practitioners from around the world. The program of talks was interspersed with cultural performances.

This was followed by the convergence, which was held at Polam Farm, 70 kms out of Hyderabad. The site for the convergence was chosen two years ago after it had been confirmed that India would be hosting the next IPC, so they immediately started planning the food production. Banana trees were planted, as was sugar cane and a range of fruit trees. Vegie gardens were set up several months prior to the convergence. 60 percent of all of the food we ate was grown on site for the convergence, and the rest was grown by neighbouring farms.

Like the conference, the food was absolutely amazing. Three meals a day, with each meal being a selection of tasty Indian fare. We were given a wide plate each and had several different types of curries, masalas and sauces dished up onto our plates, along with handmade chapattis.

People always ask what’s the difference between a conference and a convergence. A conference is the more formal set up of talks in lecture theatres whereas a convergence is more like a festival. The convergence in India was held at the farm, with everyone camping in tents.

There was a traditional skills area, where local people were sharing traditional low-tech skills such as pottery, blacksmithing, seed saving and cotton spinning. There were a series of marquees set up for talks and workshops around a central area. The talks were run by the participants, as it’s about sharing knowledge and skills. And with so many talented people attending, it’s really a great opportunity to listen and learn from people with all sorts of talents from around the world. There were 80 different speakers in total as well as panel discussions, meetings and planning sessions.

There is an Australasian Permaculture Convergence happening in Canberra in April 2018, and the next International Permaculture Convergence will be held in Argentina in 2020. Hope to see you there!

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