Does planting trees help fight climate change? Planting fruit trees at Mulvany House, an old age home in Kolkata, West Bengal, India. A success story



Mulvany House, the old age home near Sealdah, Kolkata





Mulvany House, a 116-year old-age home at 11, Dr. Kartick Bose Road in Kolkata, is home to 23 elderly women and men at any given point in time. Run by the Church of North India under the Diocese of Calcutta, the home was renovated by Mr Ernst Schwering, Vice - Consul, Consulate of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is usually strapped for funds and relies heavily on donations from individuals and charitable institutes. There have been times when the home has looked desperately for funds for its dry rations, even.

Planting trees to feed and nourish, Sustainable Green Initiative, India



In early 2013, Sustainable Green Initiative (SGI) first came to know about the home as a possible place to plant fruit trees on community lands. Create an orchard in a barren land. The social enterprise works towards addressing climate change and reducing carbon footprint, while also looking at providing nourishment and subsidiary income to communities. 
 




 
The Bishop blessing and planting the first banana
Three generations planting together - mothers, grandmothers and grand children.

After 18 months of planting and nurturing 300 fruit trees in the home campus, results in the form of early fruits have started showing up. The home's residents are now enjoying wholesome nourishment from fruits such as bananas and papaya. And that too free of cost. 

The superintend of Mulvany House cannot hide her joy
Take your pick - Ber, Banana, Sapota, Guava
Early pomegranates, guavas, lemon, indian jujubes - ber and sapotas have started fruiting and have announced their plans to provide wholesome nourishment to the residents for the next 50-60 years. The administering body is even considering an auction or frequent markets for their patrons who can buy these organic fruits. 

Ripe Guavas can be eaten raw or made into jams and jellies


On the intangible side, the joy displayed by the elderly residents is indescribable as they keep count of banana looms that are ripening, discuss how they wished they had teeth for the guavas fruiting, get agitated about a missing half-ripe pomegranate fruit from a tree, and take pride in what they call their “orchard”. 

Raddish, Carrots, Beetroots, Gourds, flat and string beans, Spinach, Amaranthas- straight from the garden and into the kitchen
 SGI's work with intercropping the early-growth fruit trees with vegetables in the home’s campus now has vegetables such as spinach, radish, beetroots, flat beans, okra, brinjals, green pepper and coriander. The 23 residents of the home have been enjoying fresh, free, and organic vegetables that are grown in their own vegetable patch since August 2014.


Cooking your home-grown vegetables not only means saving a significant sum of money every month for the fund-strapped home, the fact that the vegetables are organically grown and taken fresh out of the vegetable patch are advantages that can’t be surpassed. 

METHODOLOGY

SGI’s zeroed in on the old age home as a place that needed help. Located in one of the most congested and polluted areas of the city, the trees planted here could help combat some of the pollution and benefit the residents with their fruits, 

After the enthusiastic go-ahead from the home authorities, SGI surveyed the land and found it to be uneven with places that could have water logging during mosoons. The land was made as symmetrical as possible and wild plants and bushes composted. The soil was treated with organic farmyard manure and with fermented de-oiled neem and mustard slurry cake. Note: Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are not used in SGI's planting activities since the objective is not to produce merely in large quantities for commercial purposes.
The saplings were sourced from an extremely reliable nursery in West Bengal, which is also the largest in the state. To ensure high survival rates and the quality of saplings, SGI members routinely oversee and handpick the saplings for the projects and travel extensively to the nurseries.

One of our dedicated staff, Naskar Kanhai who takes care of the trees and plants at Mulvany House.
After preparing the land for the planting and hand-picking the saplings came the next challenge. Funds for planting and then nurturing the saplings for the two years they will take for starting to fruit. As a strategy, SGI plants banana, papaya and other fruit trees. Thus, while trees would bear fruit mostly from the third year onwards, the community starts to benefit much earlier with banana and papaya, which start to bear fruit within nine to 12 months, and between 14-18 months, respectively.

The following individuals and women's social clubs showed interest and helped us with the money required for the same.
1. Mrs Rama Bhatia, District Governor, Lions Clubs International (21 trees)
2. Mrs and Mr DD Joshi (111 trees)
3. Mrs and Mr Shyam Lal Agarwal (20 trees)
3. Inner Wheel Club Metro (50 trees)
4. Inner Wheel Club Kolkata Metropolitan (50 trees)
Total: 252

Numbers: A total of 300 fruit trees were planted in three months’ time. As a standard practice SGI plants 20% extra number of saplings.

BREAKUP OF FRUIT TREES AS FOLLOWS: 

Banana                                    75
Papaya                                     50
Sapota                                     30
Guava                                      20
Lemon (3 varieties)                  35
Mango                                     15
Pomegranate                            05
Litchi                                       05
Wood apple (Bael)                   10
Amra                                       20
Star fruit                                  10
Custard Apple                         10
Indian Jujube - Ber                  10
Gooseberry                              05
TOTAL                                   300

OPERATING PROCESS

It was after the excitement of the planting that SGI’s hard work began in the earnest. 


Mulching, fertilising, pruning, de-weeding was carried out regularly by experienced hands. There were no unpleasant surprises in the maintenance process due to taking care of all aspects of planting and nurturing of the saplings. 

ADDED ADVANTAGES FOR THE HOME
SGI’s intervention goes beyond planting and maintaining tree saplings and vegetables. As the word of SGI’s planting activities spread through social media, newspapers and word-of-mouth, the home has seen a number of individuals and organisations coming forward to help. 

LEARNINGS

We added a valuable lesson to our understanding of soil and planting conditions from the failure of seeing 40 of the 50 papaya trees not surviving. Inspite of our best efforts, the ground near the papaya plants experienced water-logging, which rotted the roots. The bigger culprit, however, was the acidic nature of the soil, which was pointed out by noted horticulturalists who SGI approached when the papaya were not growing. The soil is acidic and also has calcium and boron deficiency. 

Boron and Zinc deficiency in acidic soil can be treated easily to grow papayas


The corrective steps that would have helped were simple -- dust a generous handful of lime around the papaya saplings. A 5% borax  solution topped with 5 gm of zinc sulphate solution ensures completion. 

CONCLUSION

Philipp Schoeller with wife Sara Schoeller, Walter Raizner & Delphine Raizner, with Murli Khemka admiring the fruit trees at Mulvany House, Kolkata

Planting and nurturing fruit trees can be a wonderful way to not only combat global warming and climate change, at the same time, it can be a sustainable way to help fight hunger and poverty .


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