Annamalai Reforestation Society (ARS)
This afforestation and environmental regeneration project was initiated in 1988 by the initiative of Apeetha Arunagiri, an Australian woman who had been living for many years at the foot of the sacred but barren mountain of Arunachala.

Ms. Arunagiri contacted Rain Forest Information Centre(RIC) with an outline of the situation, and a plea for support to the Annamalai Reforestation Society (ARS) which she established to regenerate the mountain to its former forested .

In spite of the fact that the district is far from rainforest, being classified as semi-arid, the plea was so convincing that the decision to work with the project was taken.

After all, if there is no forest to provide for the needs of the population elsewhere, then the rainforests have no chance of survival. All is connected. After initial visits from a couple of RIC activists, John Button remained with the project for eight years to help co-ordinate the establishment of Project Arunachala.

While the long term aim is to reforest Arunachala, if the surrounding area is not abundant enough to support the people, then all resources from the mountain would rapidly be exploited. So, apart from planting and seeding the barren slopes of Arunachala, the project has focussed on environmental education, establishment of nurseries, skills training and credit schemes in villages, the refurbishment of traditional gardens in the main temple.

Similarly, as a result of a donation of land by a visitor who was impressed by the achievements of the project, the ARS has developed a Permaculture Demonstration Farm and Educational Centre. This too, represents a dramatic example of the potential for transforming wasteland into productive farmland, and perfect situation for running courses and workshops to teach the principles that have made the transformation possible.

The practical proof of the success of Project Arunachala is that local volunteers have taken on the running of the ARS totally, and have secured adequate funding to maintain the main activities of the project from diverse local sources and from visitors to the sacred mountain.

Because of the importance of this place to Hindu pilgrims, one of the largest temples in India is found at the foot of the mountain, parts of it dating from the 9th century. The temple is surrounded by two huge outer walls with a space about 50 metres wide between them. Six years ago, this space had been a stinking wasteland of rubble and garbage. Now, ARS has a vast tree nursery there employing some dozen people and growing hundreds of thousands of native trees annually for the mountain plantings and also for the government forestry department and for neighboring villagers. They also grow endless flowers for the Temple's pujas which ensures the cooperation and goodwill of the temple authorities.

On the mountain itself, as the monsoon was over, the main ARS activity is guarding the plantings, making sure that fires, goats and firewood collectors are kept away from the young trees. Once the rains begin, hundreds of people are employed planting trees and protecting them with rock fences where necessary and earth bunds to slow the passage of water and direct it to where it is needed.

ARS's model permaculture project, has miraculously turned 12 acres of desert into lush productivity. It is amazing to see this bouquet of green suddenly sprouting from the rocky desert. Many trainings and demonstrations in permaculture are held there and surrounding villagers are taught how sustainable land-use patterns can provide food, fuel, fodder, herbs and medicines in the process of the restoration of even severely degraded land.

Annamalai Reforestation Society
MIG 95, Thamarai Nagar
Tamil NadhuHousing Board Colony, Thandrampath Road
Tiruvannamalai. Tamil Nadu - 606603
tel/fax +91 4175 23645

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