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    Amidst a verdant grove of teak trees in Tamil Nadu’s Anamalai Tiger Reserve lies an ageing tombstone with a Latin inscription that says “Si Monumentum Requires Circumspice (If you seek his monument, look around)”.

    The grave of a little-known Scotsman named Hugo Francis Andrew Wood, this serene spot remains a must-see for local forest guards and nature enthusiasts more than 70 years after the man himself died. For he is the reason why these ancient hills are still lush with trees.

    Here is the untold story of how Hugo Wood came to the rescue of Anamalai forests at a time when they stared at a bleak future.

    Annamalai01CF30dec2017

    In 1820, a team of British surveyors ventured into the still unexplored Anamalai range (that spanned several peaks in the Madras Presidency) and were pleasantly surprised to find it heavily forested with towering trees of teak and rosewood.

    At that time, timber formed the backbone of many industries and Britain’s oak forests had vanished due to the irresponsible felling of trees. Furthermore, to retain its naval supremacy among the colonial powers, Britain desperately needed wood to make new ships.

    Apart from shipbuilding and construction, logs were also needed to build train tracks for Britain’s rapidly expanding rail network — for each mile of train track, around 2,000 wooden planks were required — and provide fuel for steam locomotives.

    As such, the surveyors were quick to realise the value of what they had “discovered”. Soon after, the mountains began being gradually robbed of their abundant tree cover, with the teak being shipped of to Tiruchirappalli (to build train tracks) or Bombay (to build Royal Navy ships in the Bombay shipyard).

    Too large to be conventionally transported, the giant teak trees were cut down into logs, carried by elephants till a point and then floated down the river to the plains below — the reason why, in time, the spot came to be named Topslip.

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    In fact, according to Forestination in Madras Presidency by Dietrich Brandis (1883), roughly about 40,000 trees were felled each year in government forests in Madras Presidency for the railways alone!

    Thanks to this over-exploitation, the once-green hills of Anamalai had lost much of their tree cover by 1885. For the next three decades, several British foresters tried to regenerate the region but failed. And then came Hugo Wood.

    Appointed the District Forest Officer of Coimbatore South Division in September 1915 (a post he would hold till 1926), Hugo decided to put a stop to the unchecked destruction of Anamalai’s forests and drew up a working plan for the same.

    First, the 45-year-old Scotsman talked the local colonial authorities and convinced them to stop hunting wildlife and the irresponsible chopping of trees. He also befriended the tribals who lived near the forests, restored their traditional rights and brought back many who had been displaced (due to the British bringing the Anamalai forests under the reserved category).

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    Next, Hugo scathingly admonished the British government for uprooting trees and introduced the forest management technique of coppicing — a method that takes advantage of the fact that many trees rapidly regrow during spring if they are cut down up to the stump during the winter.

    Finally, he marked out areas where no logging or coppicing would be allowed for a period of 25 years. In fact, such was his dedication towards his work that he refused to provide timber to the British during the World War I (1914-1918).

    In 1916, Hugo set up a bamboo hut in Mount Stuart (near Topslip) and began working in earnest to regenerate the forest of the mountain range. He started small, targeting an area of 25 acres. By the time of his death, it had spread to an area of 650 sq km.

    He lived alone, cooked his own food and never missed out on a daily ritual. During his daily walks in the deforested land, he would fish out fistfuls of teak seeds from his pockets, use his silver-tipped walking stick to poke a hole in the ground, and plant seeds there.

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    He would repeat the process till his pockets were empty. Then he would go back for more seeds and start again from where he left off. He also made efforts to rid the hills of Lantana camara, an invasive species of flowering shrub that hampered the growth of teak.

    Hugo’s hard work paid off, breathing new life into the hills of Anamalai.

    In 1925, Hugo retired after a severe bout of tuberculosis and settled in Coonoor, according to a Tamil Nadu forest department booklet. Having remained a bachelor (choosing instead to devote his life to conservation), he died on December 12, 1933, at the age of 63.

    However, a few months earlier, a seriously ill Hugo had written a will asking to be buried amidst the trees he had planted. He has also sent the money for the same to the chief conservator of Madras Presidency.

    On his death, this request was conceded and Hugo Wood was laid to rest among his lasting legacy — the teak trees he raised in the hills of Anamalai.

    On windy days, leaves gently float down from the trees on to the tombstone as if to pay homage to the man who so completely loved the Anaimalais and who did so much to save it.

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    Today, this place has become an oft-visited spot for tourists while his immense contribution has become a part of the local folklore. Forest department vehicles ferry people from Kozhikamuthi elephant camp to Hugo’s grave amidst Topslip’s flourishing teak forest. The forest department is now planning to set up a memorial dedicated to the legend at the spot.

    Close by is the Mount Stuart Rest House (built in 1886) that is still let out to guests. Though the building stands in all its historic glory, it does have limited damage caused by curious bears and wild elephants who seem to have taken a permanent fancy to the house! However, do note that only wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers are allowed accommodation.

    Photographs :  Pic (01) www.commonos.wikimedia.org / P. Jeganathan / (02 and 03) www.ddraftaniwalpower.org  (04 and 05) www.keralarchaeology.blogspot.in

    source: http://www.thebetterindia.com / The Better India / Home> Conservation> Environment> Lede> Nature / by Sanchari Pal / December 28th, 2017

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    Jayaprakash01CF25dec2017

    Jayaprakash Joghee Bojan, who is National Geographic’s Nature Photographer of the Year 2017, talks about his award-winning shot and love for wildlife photography

    He was a point-and-shoot photographer for 10 years. Four years ago, his wife got him a DSLR and today Jayaprakash Joghee Bojan is the National Geographic’s Nature Photographer of the Year 2017 for his photograph of an orangutan crossing a river in the wilds of Borneo.

    Excitement ripples through his voice as he talks about his award-winning shot. “In August, I was in Kalimantan on the Indonesian side of Borneo and heard about this orangutan that crossed the river. I found this amazing because orangutans normally avoid water. They’re arboreal creatures. And, there were crocodiles in the river.”

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    So he made for the area but didn’t see anything for a couple of days. But he decided to wait. “I had a hunch this would be special.” On the third day, he heard that the animal had been spotted on the other side of the river and rushed to the spot. “When the orangutan appeared, I climbed into the water.” Didn’t he remember the crocs? “Yes but I had to do it if I wanted that truly unique shot.” His appearance made the orangutan nervous and it retreated behind a tree. They played peekaboo till the animal decided that it could ignore him. “I got around 25 shots of it peeping out from behind the tree and retreating,” laughs Bojan. “Then he came out and began to cross the river and I got this shot.”

    Bojan, who is from the Nilgiris, says his interest in wildlife came naturally. His grandparents lived in a village just a few kilometres from Dodabetta. “I was surrounded by birds and lot of wildlife.” He also lived in Bengaluru so he got in a lot of “backyard birding” and travelled to all the National Parks in India (one of his favourites is Nagarhole). But he started taking wildlife photography seriously when his wife was transferred to Singapore two years ago and he quit his job to move there. A visit to the Singapore Zoo triggered his interest in primates. “It was the first time I had seen them and I wanted to see them in the wild.” He began to research and reach out to people across Southeast Asia. “Southeast Asia has approximately 25% of the most highly endangered species of primates. You don’t have the usual photo-safari destinations here and it was hard to find people who knew where to spot them. Slowly my connections grew and I’ve been able to photograph around eight or nine species.”

    Bojan’s photos were earlier picked as the Editor’s favourites in the National Geographic Nature Photography Awards but he’s glad it’s the orangutan that won. “More people will see this and there will be more visibility and may be more people will be willing to help. The orangutans need more help than they’re getting.”

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    His favourite subjects apart from primates, and organutans in particular, are the tiger and otters. “My first tiger shot was in Bandipur,” he reminisces. “It was a female called Gauri and she had two cubs.” On the subject of otters, he has a lot more to say. While he has photographed otters in the wild in Kabini and Corbett National Park, it is a family of wild otters near his house in Singapore that currently has him captured. “They’ve figured out a way to live in an urban place like Singapore. There’s a community called Otter Watch that tracks the otters across Singapore. They post updates on social media and recently celebrated the birth of new pups. The otters roll on the sand or the grass to clean their fur as the humans watch and even take food from them.” One of Bojan’s photos of a couple of elderly men reaching out to the otters won an award from the Indian website Nature in Focus.

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    Going forward, Bojan hopes to do a photo-story book on primates. “Some of these species number just 50-100 in the wild.” He’s also looking forward to a trip in Japan in February to shoot the snow monkey, the red fox and migrating raptors. He hopes to get some sightings of the elusive snow leopard from a trip to the Spiti Valley later in 2018. Towards the end of the year, if his permissions come through, he’ll be tracking a rare monkey on the Vietnam-China border. “I have lots of photographs to come; many more stories to tell,” he says.

    A tough battle

    Halfway through the story of his award-winning shot, Bojan gets side-tracked into the story of a ranger-turned-conservationist who is trying to buy land around the periphery of the national parks to ensure that it doesn’t fall into the hands of palm oil companies. “He’s educating the local people about habitats and the animals there and training them to be guides. The profits from guided tours are being invested into ensuring that land around the forest stays wild.”

    While Bojan admits it’s a tough call to choose between preserving habitats and finding employment, he hopes they can sustain this initiative. “Obviously they cannot pay as much as the bigger companies. I am donating a part of the award money towards this cause. They’ve managed to buy around 12 acres in the last year, which is a great feat.” Around 30% of Indonesia’s income comes from palm oil, so it’s a “tricky affair for all concerned: the government and the people on the ground.”

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Life & Style / by R. Krithika / December 25th, 2017

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    WasteManagementCF08dec2017

    A few residents’ welfare associations have set to work on the Corporation’s plan for creating a city free of landfills

    The annual general body meeting at a gated community in Perungudi turned out to be stormier than expected. None of the resolutions was passed without a prolonged debate — except for one. Without as much as a squeak, almost everyone agreed that the community should invest in a composting. And, on this unusually “stormy” day, it was surprisingly smooth sailing for this resolution.

    A letter by the Corporation, displayed on a projector-screen earlier, had done the trick. It dwelt on a Corporation mandate that apartment complexes generating over 100 kilos of waste had to manage their waste on their premises.

    After the presentation, a member of Doshi Etopia-II Residential Flat Owners’ Association, cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention.

    “I hope we are all for a resolution to set up a compost unit to process wet waste at our complex,” he said.

    The hall seemed to fill up with raised hands.

    Whether this gated community, which has over 200 apartments, ratifies this resolution in the next few months or takes longer to do so, is beside the point.

    What is significant here is that residents’ welfare associations and voluntary organisations can play an aggressive role in taking forward Corporation’s objectives in waste management.

    They can point out to residents in unequivocal terms what ought to be done and what ought not to be, as spelt out by the Corporation. In this sense, these associations serve as an effective interpreter and mediator to the Corporation.

    On its part, the Corporation has been conducting door-to-door campaigns at colonies and gated communities to create awareness about better waste management practices, especially after October 2 when it made source segregation mandatory.

    “We are focusing on setting up more compost plants; in some divisions, finding the space to carry out this initiative is a challenge. We have identified 11 places where facilities to process biodegradable waste can come up. Compost plants are ready in Zone XI. In Zone XII, a plant is under construction and a mechanised composting machine has been installed in Zone XV,” says S. Gopala Sundara Raj, Regional Deputy Commissioner (South), Greater Chennai Corporation. It may be noted that the Corporation has no immediate plans to slap a fine on those who don’t follow the rules. Given this lenient position, it needs the help of residents’ welfare associations to keep drumming up the message.

    Community initiatives:

    * Two months ago, Vishranthi Coconut Grove Residents Association, a 60-unit community in Tansi Nagar, Velachery, pooled in ₹750 each from every resident to invest in two composting pots, each having a capacity of 600 litres. “Once you pay for something, you want to see what is being done, so we had a majority of residents who were ready to pay for community green bins. Also, many realised this was cheaper and less of a hassle than maintaining a khamba pot at home,” says Priya Shankar, president of the Association, adding that they get help from a vendor who monitors the whole process.

    The Association expects residents to segregate.

    “At least 90 % of the residents are segregating waste and witnessing the benefits of doing so,” says Priya.

    * When it comes to environment-friendly practices, Ceebros Boulevard Flat Owners Association (CBFOA) in Thoraipakkam has been raising its bar regularly. Their latest initiative — Green Spaces — is inspired from the do-it-yourself (DIY) concept from the west.

    Here, residents are required to take their bins to the Green Spaces, where eight to nine bins are placed, and dispose waste on their own. “Cleanliness is a big issue if the bins are not cleared at the correct time from the corridors. Also, finding labour and educating them is a challenge,” says a resident. The gated community with over 300 flats currently has 80-100 residents practising DIY.

    * After a resolution was passed at the annual general body meeting of Ceebros Orchid in Velachery to start segregation of waste at source, the Association distributed segregation kits. The kit, consisting of two bins and one bag, was distributed to each of the 192 flats at the apartment complex.

    A nominal amount was charged for the kit. “Currently, only 60 families follow the practice regularly. We hope to convert the rest by meeting them in person and explaining to them the benefits of environment-friendly practices,” says Swaminathan, a resident of the Ceebros Orchid.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Chennai / by Liffy Thomas / December 08th, 2017

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    eWasteCF18nov2017

    Non-functional mobile phone chargers, adaptors, calculators, old wires, bulbs, printers, and toners are all part of the e-waste generated at offices, industries, and even households. These mostly get into the regular garbage bags.

    Green Era Recyclers, a seven-month-old start-up by Prasanth Omanakuttan and Syam Premachandran, looks at recycling the e-waste generated in the city. In the last seven months, it has collected and recycled eight to 10 tonnes.

    The firm has recently got a five-year authorisation from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board to recycle 150 tonnes of e-waste annually.

    According to Mr. Prasanth, a study on the e-waste inventory shows that Coimbatore generates nearly 2,500 tonnes of e-waste a year. However, most of it goes unsegregated.

    The waste batteries, cartridges, displays, and printers are all collected from institutions, a few houses, and industries and dismantled. The waste is segregated into hazardous and non-hazardous and the non-hazardous waste is recycled. “We also try to recover a lot of materials and refurbish some products,” he said.

    Green Era is in talks with Coimbatore Corporation to collect e-waste from houses in one or two wards initially. “We have designed a special bin for households. It has four compartments to collect bulbs, wires, printers and toners, and miscellaneous items. We will pay an amount for most of these and collect them,” he says. The civic body has asked for some more details on recycling and the company will submit the information in a week or so. The preliminary recycling will be done in Coimbatore and the hazardous waste will be sent to Chennai for safe disposal.

    Started with an investment of ₹15 lakh, the start-up also has a research unit that designs and develops machinery for recycling, “We now have shredder, extruder, and cable stripper,” says Mr. Prasanth. If the machinery available in the market is purchased, a large-scale recylcing plant needs at least ₹2 crore investment. The start-up has machinery that costs much less and plans to commercialise these too.

    “We will go for external funding after developing the machinery,” he said.

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Coimbatore / by M. Soundariya Preetha / Coimbatore – November 17th, 2017

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    SriramCF17nov2017

    A software engineer is offering guidance to anyone seeking to set up a low-cost rainwater harvesting system

    Sriram Vasudevan, a software engineer, uses his free time for work involving hardware. Not the hardware you associate with computers. He’s working with PVC pipes, L-joints and valves and other material necessary to build rainwater harvesting (RWH) systems. Having set up a self-designed, cost-effective RWH structure at his house in Ramapuram, he is helping others install such structures at theirs.

    He had been researching intensely on how to install cost-effective RWH structures before devising such a model himself. He says this work is motivated by a desire to solve water-related problems in the city. Sometime ago, he posted an announcement on Facebook, expressing his desire to guide anyone who wants to install such an RWH structure. “My friend Balaji set up an RWH structure at his house recently and I was greatly inspired by it. I believe a good RWH structure in each house will help solve many water-related problems in the city,” he says. Here’s how this model works.

    “The rainwater that gets collected in someone’s terrace should be directed to their borewell, well or sump,” he explains. In regular RWH systems, the collected rainwater is directed to a rainwater harvesting pit dug near the house. This pit has a layer of coarse pebbles to help filter impurities and channel the water underground directly. In a variation of this model, Sriram suggests that a valve be placed in the RWH pipes.

    This valve is capable of clearing out the impurities, thereby helping bypass the need for a rainwater harvesting pit.

    Sriram says channeling the collected rainwater directly to the borewell will help improve water quality.

    “There will be a evident change in water quality and taste, post-monsoon,” he says.

    He points out that in case of any overflow in the collection system, an extra tank can always be set up to store excess water.

    Sriram has already helped two residents set up RWH structures at their houses.

    Sriram can be reached at 9944888755

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> News> Cities> Chennai / by Anjana Shekar / November 17th, 2017

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    Artistes of Karaikudi, company’s designers, handcrafting the eco-friendly products of Tetewood

    Artistes of Karaikudi, company’s designers, handcrafting the eco-friendly products of Tetewood

    Chennai :

    As fashion progresses towards going green, this Chennai startup went one step further turning spectacle frames biodegradable. Though there are many options for buying spectacle frames in the market today, an online store TeteWood, deals in a unique product — biodegradable wooden frames. ‘When we heal the earth, we heal ourselves, so why not go green, make a cleaner greener environment and make the Earth a better place for our fellow Earthlings’ reads the company’s motto.

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    Jayakumar Mamani, (24), CEO, TeteWood, started the company in January 2017. ‘Tete’ stands for Tectonas Texture. He was inspired by a local optical vendor in Karaikudi and that is how it all began. “I am interested in wood and studied a lot about bamboo in Auroville. When I visited Hyderabad, I loved the concept of the wooden house, and wanted to learn more,” he says. “I was always looking forward to creating something innovative that can be used by people on a daily basis. So I thought of making wooden eyewear which is a unique concept in India, and preferred by youngsters,” he says.

    The business is helmed from Chennai and Bengaluru. They also ship orders to  Maldives, Kenya and Australia. Most of their products go to retailers and wholesalers, and the stalls at international optical expos paved way for it. Jayakumar does his business online in other websites like Indiamart and TradeIndia.

    He faced several challenges in the initial stages. “My mother was a house maid; we struggled to eat one square meal a day. I also lost my father in the first month of the launch of our website,” he shares.

    Collecting wooden frames for sampling was also difficult as there were lots of legal formalities. Now, he wants to take Tetewood to the next level and is looking for big investors.

    “Customers can bring any wooden piece to us and we will make the desired spectacle out of it. For instance, even if a broken chair is given to us, we can make multiple frames out of it!” His investors include his friends with whom he plays basketball. “They gave me all that I wanted; they are my genies. One of my friends, Ragu showed great interest in the product and invested Rs 5 lakh for starting the project. Now I have three other individual investors, a sum of Rs 25 lakh on the whole,” he says.
    There are 12 employees in the team and 80% of the work is handcrafted by the traditional artists of Karaikudi. Sonnet and Booze model are in demand in the Indian market and product with customer’s name engraved on it is most liked.

    Tetewood has taken the patent for the patterns/engravings over wooden optical frames, luxury frames — frames with wood and gold costing from Rs 20,000 to Rs 60,000 per frame. In future, he plans to make frames from wood and jean, oxidized plate, metal/stone/linen/other combo with natural prints, wooden phone cases, bowties, wooden certificates, wooden notebooks and  the list goes on.

    Due to the large scale demands of the products, he had to reject few offers as they only produce around 100 pieces of frames as the time and labour invested is more. “We are the first manufacturers in India to build a company exclusively for the wooden eyewear, so there is not much competition for us in the market,” claims Jayakumar.
    To make a strong base offline and market his project he would need Rs 3 crore.

    Rs 5 lakh
    The basic investment Tetewood started  off with

    Rs 25 lakh
    The current capital with which they work on wih three investors on board

    Rs 3 crore

    The amount they  need in investment for venturing into luxury products

    12 employees
    While their products are handcrafted by artistes of Karaikudi.

    source: http://www.newindianexpress.com / The New Indian Express / Home> Cities> Chennai / by Priyanka Susil / Express News Service / November 01st, 2017

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    Chennai:

    Red diamonds, he calls them. The fruits of his labour. And since January, Gopinath Jayaraja and his coterie of city farmers have harvested three tonnes of this precious commodity. Incidentally, it has also made his idli-dosa batter taste spectacular.

    During Pongal 2017, Jayaraja and friends decided to try their hand at community farming on a leased land near Chengalpet, calling the initiative Valam 1.0, after the organic produce store they run in Chennai. Their first crop — the red diamonds, a native rice grain called poongar. “We sell organic products from our Tirunelveli farm but found customers in Chennai were interested in trying their hand at farming. So, for Valam 1.0, we got people to invest in leasing five acres from a farmer to cultivate rice,” says Jayaraja, who farms part-time, and works full-time at an IT firm.

    With 54 investors joining in for round one, Jayaraja has begun preparing ground for Valam 2.0 near Mambakkam. “At the end of the crop cycle, investors share the harvest with everyone taking home a certain amount of organically grown native rice. The idea of farming draws people in. Most of those who put in their money, also put in their time working the land along with the farmer who owns the land,” says Jayaraja.

    The Valam collective is one of several mini urban-rural joint ventures cropping up across TN, which not only encourage organic farming and give city-dwellers a chance to explore their entrepreneurial side, but also help rural farmers who are in dire straits financially.

    Anything that gives financial respite to farmers is an encouraging trend, believes Dr M Maheswaran, director of research, TN Agricultural University, Coimbatore. “Many from the IT industry are getting into organic farming and collaborating with farmers. The government too is facilitating it,” he says.

    At Valam, land is leased from a farmer who also works at the collective, thereby earning him a steady income, apart from what he makes from the rest of his farmland. Divya Shetty and Vishnu Vardhan of Indian Superheroes (ISH) from Coimbatore, started a similar venture a few months ago, where people can rent out a portion of farmland for three months to a year. “We have 823 organic farmers on board and have got several NRIs to book farmlands, which they want to cultivate whenever they come down,” says Shetty, 27, a management graduate whose grandparents were farmers. ISH also runs weekend workshops with farmers to generate interest in sustainable agriculture.

    Ilumurugan, a farmer who has signed on with ISH, says doing workshops has not just given him a second stream of income but a voice too. “When people from the city work on the farm, they understand the effort we put in. I don’t know how much of a steady income it will generate but at least I see respect in their eyes at the end of every interaction,” says the 22-year-old, who has a 15-acre farm where he grows turmeric, cotton and sugarcane.

    At ISupportFarming, a community initiative in Cuddalore and Virudhunagar, co-founders and brothers Vijaykumar and Vasanthkumar Mani see themselves as a “hinge” between the disjointed worlds of the officegoer and the farmer. Here, all the working capital is given by people from the city, and the farmer who owns the land does the work, while we monitor the process, says Vijaykumar, an HR consultant with a farming background.
    “The farmland is evaluated on aspects like water facilities, and farmers on social credibility before they are signed on. After the harvest, farmers get 80% of the returns, investors get 15%, and we take 5%,” says Vijaykumar, adding that they are now working with 80 farmers, 50 investors, and 250 acres of land, growing paddy, maize, groundnut and watermelon.

    Vijakumar says the average investment to cultivate one acre through one crop cycle of three to four months is `25,000. “Most of our investors are IT professionals and each of them usually puts in `5,000. At the end of a quarter, we divide the profit and they can choose to reinvest or pull out,” says Vijaykumar.

    But for investors like Gokulavan Jayaraman, for whom farming is the ‘ultimate dream’, pulling out is nowhere in the picture. “I started a year ago with an investment of `5,000, not expecting anything other than the satisfaction of helping a farmer and spending time working in fields with my family. I was surprised to realise farming was also giving me financial returns, 12% in the first year,” says Jayaraman, lead auditor at a city IT firm.

    “I’m now in this for the long run,” he adds. And of course, the organically grown watermelon he brought home from his farm is just the more mouth-watering piece of that pie.

    source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Chennai News / TNN / November 11th, 2017

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    GeologistCF08nov2017

    Award-winning geologist C Singaraja explains how what’s happening beneath our feet impacts our lives and health

    It’s Shawshank Redemption in real life. Or, if you prefer, Erin Brockovich. In the first, a banker (Tim Robbins) charged with murder is sent to a high-security prison where he uses his fine knowledge of rocks to dig a tunnel and escape.

    In the second, based on a true story, Erin Brockovich, a law-firm assistant (Julia Roberts) investigates a chemicals company that releases untreated hexavalent chromium thus contaminating groundwater and jeopardising the health of local residents.

    Geologist Dr C Singaraja was recently conferred a Dr APJ Abdul Kalam prize for Young Scientist — 2017, by Marina Labs R&D, Chennai, a Medical Research Center and Biotechnology Company. The award was given in recognition of his study of groundwater. Rocks, water, contamination: how does he join the dots?

    “I did my graduation and post graduation studies in Thoothukudi, and moved to Annamalai University for my M.Phil and doctorate work,” he says. “My paper for MPhil was on how tidal variation affects groundwater along the Cuddalore coast. My PhD thesis on the other hand was on the hydro-geo chemistry of groundwater in Thoothukudi district. This place has sea-water intrusion and heavy-metal pollution by industries. I checked the land for the presence of radon and fluoride and their effect on groundwater.”

    He listed the findings. Groundwater is impacted by salt content in coastal regions. In inland areas the weathering of bed-rock leaches mica, fluorite and fluoro-apatite into groundwater. The report educates panchayats and builders about water quality, and the reasons why it gets contaminated.

    Singaraja also worked as an assistant on a project that surveyed soil in Thoothukudi, Dindigul, Krishnagiri, Nagapattinam, Puducherry and Villuppuram. He prepared a groundwater quality index, and pointed to where people could find good aquifer zones.

    The team tested and labelled water quality region-wise based on scientific parameters. “In Cuddalore district we showed how tidal waves and salt-pans impacted water salinity, and how this affected sea creatures. We devised a method to remove excess fluoride from water using natural materials,” he says

    Since 2009 Singaraja has been part of several soil-testing projects and has written 40 papers on hydro-geology. “Rocks don’t change for millennia, but water content does, indicating what’s happening beneath our feet and how it impacts our lives and health.” He also studies what he calls medical geology. “It looks into the health effects of rocks,” he explains. For example, granite, a source rock, contains naturally-occurring uranium and radon, and exposure to weather makes uranium radio-active and radon into gas. These run into groundwater, making it unsafe.

    Doing research on water quality in 100-plus villages was memorable. “Some villagers noticed the instrument we dipped in the water and accused us of poisoning their sources. Others knew what we were doing and asked us to check the water in wells in their homes. Still others requested us to bore wells for them. We helped farmers identify zones to dig for water.” That’s a lot of passion in someone who calls himself a reluctant geologist. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after school. A cousin had studied Geology and was doing well with the Geological Survey of India. I joined VOC, Thoothukkudi, which has a well-known 85-year-old Geology Department. I soon warmed up to my subject.”

    Talking about the water in Chennai, he says boiling drinking water will make it salt-free. “Store can water in porous mud pots, so the pH increases through air circulation. It’s good for health. Check common water for fluoride. Beyond 1.5 mg/litre it could cause yellowing teeth and problems with bones.”

    He adds, “Never buy land or construct houses without first testing the soil for curability; and water for elements within permissible levels. Certain types of soil swell with water and shake the foundation. The effects of groundwater contamination show up slowly after regular intake. Rain-water harvesting purifies groundwater. So opt for preventive measures.”

    He adds, “Geology is currently an important subject. Future wars will be fought over fresh water… Research on groundwater components can get you two Nobels — for Science and for Peace.”

    source: http://www.thehindu.com / The Hindu / Home> Society / by Geeta Padmanabhan / November 06th, 2017

  • scissors

    James Ajoo, a man who grew up in Chennai, realised that his grandfather was a pawn in one of the greatest heists of the 19th century – the Great Tea Robbery.

    Canton, Kwangtung province, China. Photograph by John Thomson, 1867. Image: Wellcome Image

    Canton, Kwangtung province, China. Photograph by John Thomson, 1867. Image: Wellcome Image

    When James Ajoo, a Chennai-based English professor, was growing up, he often wondered why his surname was so different from that of his classmates. It was not a typical South Indian name – for that matter, it didn’t even sound Indian. When he asked his paternal grandmother, her answer was so unexpected that it set him off on a quest to trace his roots.

    His grandmother told him that his ancestor was one of the six Chinese tea manufacturers that Robert Fortune smuggled into India to help the English manufacture tea, harvested from their newly planted tea estates. Some of these estates are in what is now The Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu. His grandfather was a primary player, albeit a pawn, in one of the greatest heists of the 19th century – the Great Tea Robbery pulled off by Robert Fortune, a botanist and plant hunter who stole tea from Imperial China.

    In modern day terms, there are three serious violations: Geographical Indications (GIs), bio-piracy and the theft of a process.

    James Ajoo

    James Ajoo

    James questioned other older members of his family, but none of them knew anything more. The information he had gathered was inadequate. Several years later, when James went to the US to study, he found the time and resources to further research his ancestor, the mysterious John Ajoo.

    European interest in China

    Since the Ajoo family story in India is tied up with that of Robert Fortune and the nascent tea industry in India, let’s start with the Scottish botanist. What made him a hero in the times he lived in and a villain thereafter? Robert Fortune was best known for stealing tea plants from China, the only country where tea was grown at that time. Tea growing and manufacture in China was a closely guarded secret.

    Trade with China was much sought after by the European trading powers of that time, primarily the English, Americans and the Dutch. Trade with China grew and flourished right through the 18th century, when the English East India Company traded woolens and Indian cottons for Chinese tea, silk and porcelain.

    However, with the widespread popularity of tea in England, tea soon became the single largest export item out of China, while the imports declined. The Chinese made things more difficult by insisting that tea has to be paid for in silver. Soon, there was a shortage of silver and the English were forced to look for other commodities to offset the balance of trade.

    L0056403 China: women tea plantation workers by John Thomson Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Fukien province, China: women tea plantation workers. Photograph by John Thomson, 1871. 1871 By: J. ThomsonPublished: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

    L0056403 China: women tea plantation workers by John Thomson
    Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
    images@wellcome.ac.uk
    http://wellcomeimages.org
    Fukien province, China: women tea plantation workers. Photograph by John Thomson, 1871.
    1871 By: J. ThomsonPublished: –
    Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

    This is when they introduced opium grown in India to China, which proved to be a profitable business.

    The tea robber

    After the Treaty of Nanking in 1848, Fortune was sent by the Royal Horticultural Society to collect exotic plants from China, tea primarily. The latter was to be replanted in parts of India which was considered to be congenial to tea and thus break China’s monopoly of global trade.

    “The task required a plant hunter, a gardener, a thief, a spy,” writes Sarah Rose, in her award-winning book ‘For All the Tea in China’, which charts Fortune’s great British Tea Robbery. Though some of the saplings perished, the tea seeds brought back by Fortune were instrumental in starting the tea industry in India and breaking Chinese monopoly on tea.

    Rober Fortune. Source: Wiki Commons

    Rober Fortune. Source: Wiki Commons

    In 1849, Fortune disguised as a wealthy Chinese trader travelled to the remote tea growing areas in China and witnessed both green and black tea being processed. He realized that manufacturing tea was a complex and intricate process and experienced tea manufacturers would be required. So, he recruited a team of experienced tea farmers and manufacturers from Hawgchow, present day Huizhou in the Anhui province of China, with help of Chinese contractors called Wang tih Poon and Hoo. Fortune and this small band of Chinese set sail for India from Shanghai.

    John Ajoo enters India

    James Ajoo, now in his 30s, is of the opinion that his ancestor took the name John when he arrived in India, because he had been secretly converted to Christianity by the Jesuits who had been active in China since 1582. The name Ajoo, he says, could be the phonetic pronunciation of a Chinese surname.

    James started his research by digging deep into the available material on the internet. After months of searching, he finally got lucky when he found a log entry made on February 15, 1851 which mentions that the Chinese tea manufacturers are to be paid from that date and the order was to be executed by the Chinese contractor Wang tih Poon.

    Ajoo was clutching at straws but persisted in his search; he combed through endless maritime lists and passenger arrivals lists and then finally, struck gold when he found an old notice of passenger arrivals into Calcutta port on November 27, 1851, when the streamer Lady Mary Wood docked in Calcutta with six Chinese on board. (Most records show that there were eight Chinese – six tea manufacturers and two pewterers, whose sole job was preparing lead casings to the tea chests).

    When Ajoo came to Nilgiris

    James Ajoo followed the progress of the Chinese tea manufacturers who were sent to work in the tea gardens of the North-West Province. It was hard work, (for James Ajoo) for there was but a scant mention here or there. In May 1862, the Chinese left government service and entered private employment for higher wages.

    The next year, a report on the tea plantations in East Indies made to the House of Commons mentioned that Dr HFC Cleghorn, Conservator of Forests of the Madras Presidency, had asked the government for Chinese tea manufacturers to help tea growers in the Neilgherries (as Nilgiris was spelt those days). This report also states that there were no Chinese tea manufacturers available for the Nilgiris planters, and instead “native” tea manufacturers were offered.

    However, may be because of continued pressure from the Nilgiris planters, two Chinese tea manufacturers were sent to the hills in 1864, one of them being John Ajoo. It is interesting to note that these two were not the only Chinese in the Nilgiris at the time.

    Did Chinese PoWs teach Indians how to manufacture tea?

    Between 1856 and 1860, the British brought in Chinese Prisoners of War (PoWs) captured during the second Anglo Chinese war, also known as the Opium Wars, which involved British trade in opium to China and China’s sovereignty. Chinese prisoners were also brought to the Nilgiris from the Straits Settlements of Singapore, Malacca, Dinding and Penang. They were initially sent to the Nilgiris because of the overcrowding in the Madras jails, but later, when it was discovered the Chinese were good workmen, they were put to work in the newly opened tea and cinchona plantations.

    An 1850 depiction of the tea cultivation process in Assam. By Joseph Lionel Williams after Thomas Brown, via Wiki Commons

    An 1850 depiction of the tea cultivation process in Assam. By Joseph Lionel Williams after Thomas Brown, via Wiki Commons

    Many senior Nilgiri planters have poofed the idea that the Chinese PoWs taught the pioneer planters how to plant and manufacture tea, mainly because the PoWs were mostly seafaring men with no experience in tea farming or manufacture. Sir Percival Griffiths, a British civil servant and tea historian is one who dismissed claims that Chinese PoWs instructed planters how to plant and manufacture tea. But records indicate that at this time, Miss Cockburn, (pronounced Coburn) daughter of the Collector of Salem and pioneer tea and coffee planter, had one Chinese man help on the tea estate near Kotagiri, while Thaishola Estate, where many PoWs were housed, has anecdotal evidence that the Chinese planted tea and has a Jail Thottam (garden) even today.

    Chinaman’s field

    James Ajoo at this point, reiterates that his ancestor, John Ajoo, a free man, worked with some planters in the Nilgiris for a short while and was then lured away to work with a tea planter called AW Turner, who founded the North Travancore Land Planting Agricultural Society in Munnar.

    S Muthiah, the Chennai based historian, in his book “A Planting Century” which records the history of South India’s plantations has made a mention of John Ajoo, a Chinaman who planted 13 acres of tea in Munnar, and this plot of land was known popularly as the Chinaman’s Field.

    Somewhere along the line, John Ajoo married a local woman, though there is no mention of that. (It would be pertinent to note that most of the Chinese PoWs who settled down in Nattuvattom, a small hamlet in the Nilgiris where the Government cinchona factory was located, married local women and lived the rest of their lives tending cattle and growing garden vegetables.)

    The Chinaman’s son

    \John Ajoo’s son John Antony, referred to as the Chinaman’s son, was born in June 1869 and would become the owner of a small estate called Vialkadavu near Talliar Estate in which the Turner family had an interest.

    Now John Antony was quite a colorful character and had worked in a provision store owned by an Englishman in Munnar town. He taught himself English, joined the Anglican Church and endeared himself to the English planters in the area. He was a skilled tracker and shikari and in the course of time, became a favourite with the planters for the hunting jaunts; which lead him to be acquainted with the Sri Kerala Varma Valiya Koilthampuranan, who was married to Her Highness Bharani Thirunal Lakshmi Bayi, the adopted niece of the Maharajah of Travancore.

    A plac of John Antony

    A plac of John Antony

    Anecdotal evidence within the family is that, the marriage of John Antony to Mariamma was brought about by none other than the Koilthampuranan himself. Mariamma, it is said, was a child widow of a member of royal family. Nothing more is known of the mysterious Mariamma (that may not even be her real name) as there is no documentary evidence to the marriage or her background.

    John Antony died when he was 82 after establishing himself as a planter and with a large acreage under him. He was also a founder member of the Travancore Cardamom Planters Association in Madurai district. Subsequently, the Ajoos moved away from the plantations and turned to the Church with many of them becoming pastors.

    James Ajoo has never visited the land of his ancestor but hopes to do so one day. But now he has a story to tell too, of John Ajoo’s long journey from the tea growing farms of his youth in China, to the High Ranges in the south of India. One wonders, did John Ajoo ever think of going back home?  We will never know.

    source: http://www.thenewsminute.com / The News Minute / Home> History / by Nina Varghese / Sunday – October 22nd, 2017

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    JasmineCF26sept2017

    The state boasts of being one of the major cultivators of jasmine in the country . Yet, with jasmine being a seasonal shrub, its cultivation is limited between March and September, leaving farmers unemployed during the off-season. Not anymore.

    Floriculturists at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) are now working on developing a variety of jasmine that grows all year round. Called the improved CO2 variety of `pitchi’ -one that is popular for hair accessorising – it promises to produce flowers throughout the year.

    Though the yield of the variety is expected to be around 30% lesser than the older varieties of pitchi jasmine, it will give the farmers extremely high returns during the off season or winter.

    The older varieties of pitchi jasmine cultivated during the flowering season (between March and September-end) give farmers an annual yield of around 10 tonnes per hectare.

    “However, the price of jasmine during the season is only Rs150 per kg. They almost have no income during the off-season, ” says professor and head of the floriculture department, M Kannai.

    “But, there were a few farmers who harvest their flowers during the off season too, because it yields a much better price. That is what gave us the idea to come up with a clone of a variety that grows all year round, ” he adds.

    The new variety called `improved CO2′ is expected to produce a uniform yield throughout the year. “The variety will give an overall yield of 7 tonnes per hectare, which is 30% lesser than the yield given by CO1 and CO2,” says Kannan.

    “But the advantage is that farmers will be able to rake in at least `700 to `800 per kg for even loose flowers during the off season between October and February. Thus, the returns for farmers will be higher with the new variety than the older CO1 and CO2 varieties, ” he adds.

    The variety is also resistant to major diseases and pests that affect the jasmine plant. “The buds of the new variety are an intensive pink, com pared to the usual light pink, but once the flower blooms, it assumes a neat white colour, ” says Kannan.

    The only disadvantage of the variety is that, with a shelf life of hardly 24 hours, the pitchi jasmine is unlikely to be chosen for ex ports. The Gundu Malli which stays fresh for around 48 hours when refrigerated is instead preferred for exports.

    Multi-locational trials of the variety have been under progress for the past six months, say department staff. ” We have been conducting trials with the new variety in farmer’s fields, shrubs for which were planted in March.Some of them have started bearing flowers too, ” says Kannan. The department has also distributed plants of the new clone to around 25 jasmine farmers in 10 jasmine growing districts including Madurai, Dindigul, Erode, Krishnagiri, Villupuram, Thiruvannamalai and Coimbatore.

    source: http://www.timesofindia.indiatimes.com / The Times of India / News> City News> Madurai News / by Pratiksha Ramkumari / TNN / September 26th, 2017

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