Giving back to the earth is a concept mostly associated with tree huggers and environmentalists, but a global trend towards sustainable communities is gaining momentum.
Austrian-born, Markus P Poelz is an ardent believer and has been quite literally, spreading the seeds of his passion in Pakistan by introducing the new agro-design system, permaculture.
Poelz, who is a permaculture design consultant, has devoted the last decade to developing and introducing a sustainable ecological system that encourages the healthy symbiosis of people, plants and animal life.
Healthy soil, says Poelz means healthy plants and as the saying goes, “We are what we eat.” Indigenous farmers, newly exposed to the idea of permaculture are intrigued by the demonstration farms set up in upper and central Hunza and Gilgit, according to him. The plan is to educate local farmers about maintaining soil fertility by introducing a concentrated diversity of fruits, vegetables, flowers, herbs, tea, livestock and trees within a farm.
“This will allow nature to breathe and take its course,” explains Poelz, his exhilaration much like that of an artist upon the completion of a work of art, an analogy that the permaculture expert agrees with. All the elements of nature meld together in the kind of symbiosis that is the objective of all designers.
Soil tests performed on samples collected from the dry expanse of land in Gilgit and Hunza were a disappointing reminder of the damaging effects of fertilisers and chemicals on soil fertility and therefore, sustainability. The current systems in place, financial and agricultural are short-sighted, “functioning for one generation at best,” shared Poelz.
Through small academies and demonstration farms, Poelz hopes to change this and to encourage the growth of living microorganisms found in the depths of the soil that are indicators of life and health. Areas with trees tend to be more fertile as shedding leaves feed these micro-organisms.
The plan is to run the established demonstration farms with contribution from three local farmers and a permaculturist depending on the popularity of the principles. Local farmers disappointed with the declining fertility of their land have been shown the light, though their long-term willingness to adapt to the new system cannot be ascertained this soon.
“We have completely lost contact with nature, without realising that we are nature,” said the agriculturist. He is collaborating with the Karakoram Area Development Organisation based out of Hunza for the experiment.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 4th, 2013.