Vadagaraparai is a village I visited recently. It lies close to the forest boundary on the Palani Ghat road.
The residents of Vadagaraparai are from several caste and indigenous communities. One such community is the Paliyans, traditional hunter gatherers that have lived in the Palani hills for several centuries.
During my visit, Shankar, a Paliyan resident, walked me though several farms. The farms resembled the adjacent forest in appearance. To begin with, these plots of land were not clearly demarcated or separated by fences. Instead hedges and bushes acted as natural separators.
The Paliyan residents hung glass bottled from trees, so they would rattle and produce sounds which would warn them of animals passing through. Gaurs, Wild boards and sambar deer are regular visitors to these forest farms.
These farms are always grown organically. They depend on the natural fertility of the soil. In one such farm I saw coffee bushes, pepper vines, amla, jackfruit, orange, lime, avocado and custard apple trees growing in a half acre plot alongside wild jamun and silk cotton trees. Although these multi crop farms do not need as much financial input or labour, according to Shankar small harvests of many different crops, makes it challenging to market.
However, even within the village of Vadagaraparai, only the Paliyan farm appear different in these ways. Several other communities in the village practice more mainstream agriculture with more conventional fencing options like barbed wire or chain link fences. They most often use chemical pesticides and fertilizer for crops.
A range of reasons have driven these communities to make different choices. For instance the Paliyans became land owners only very recently, besides their access to capital, in comparison to other more privileged communities has be limited. Today these diverse agricultural practices coexist in the Palani Hills.
1. Dhruv Athreye in February 2018 began a survey of mammals in the Palani Hills and is publishing notes of his field work.