A short history of reforestation in Auroville
Auroville was once a very dense forest, but that changed in colonial times. The French bought Kalapet in 1700, and from its forest trees of teak and rosewood, started building Pondicherry. The forest was destroyed, and gullies started forming.
Then the British took over Pondy, and they took out all the wood, moving it somewhere else. The French rebuilt Pondy with newly harvested wood (teak and rosewood). The British destroyed Pondy again, removed the wood again. This happened three times.
We have been told that scrub trees in a 10km radius around Pondicherry were burned to keep away elephants and big cats – but haven't verified this.
In 1984 we had the first satellite photos of India. The Forest Department had said that 30% of India was under forest cover; the photos showed that it was actually 6%.
Auroville got a grant from the Department of Environment to work on reforestation in the area. The first work on this desert land was water conservation: the creation of swales, bunds, ponds. Auroville employed 100 local people to make these and to plant trees. So the question came: what types of trees?
We went to the Forest Department, which then had two kinds of trees: eucalyptus and acacia. So we went to sacred groves, and to roadsides, to collect the seeds of indigenous trees. We created a tree nursery with 30 species.
Then we encountered a problem: forest trees need forest soil! Some of the early reforestation efforts were not very successful.
We dug holes of 1 cubic meter to plant trees, and caged them for protection. That was the beginning of reforestation in Auroville.