The Kaigal Valley land

The Krishnamurti Foundation India has had in its care about 200 acres of beautiful forest land at Kaigal Valley near the town of Palamner since 1984. The land has a small rivulet running through a valley, which also forms a waterfall, ‘the Kaigal Fall’, once considered sacred by the local communities. The water here is even today regarded as having medicinal qualities. This rivulet ultimately joins the Palar river. The steep and often rocky hill slopes are covered by scrub jungle, with a variety of deciduous trees, a wide range of shrubs and many species of medicinally valuable herbs. As you come down the hill slopes to the stream in the valley, the vegetation changes markedly to evergreen trees. The place is rich in biodiversity, and includes a variety of animals such as sloth bears, spotted deer, sambar, wild boar, porcupine, wild dogs, monitor lizards, other reptiles, smaller mammals, as well as a wide variety of birds, fresh water fish, amphibians, butterflies and other creatures.

The land itself is surrounded by the forests of the Koundinya Wildlife Sanctuary (an elephant reserve) on three sides and is bound by the state highway linking Palamner and Kuppam in Andhra Pradesh.

Beginnings of a conservation project

With the ecological crisis that we are facing, it is imperative that every small bit of wilderness be conserved, nurtured and taken care of. It is also true that an important part of any conservation effort is to interact and build a friendly relationship with the local communities who depend on these wilderness areas for their basic livelihood needs. A village by the name of Kaigal lies in the immediate neighbourhood of the natural spot described above. When the teachers and students of the Valley School began to educate themselves about issues in conservation, we realized that building a rapport with the people of Kaigal would be a major starting point.

A colleague, who coordinates the activities in this forest land and has been living there for the last three years, has been closely interacting with the local communities. He encouraged us to involve a group of students in furthering this relationship. The outcome was a field visit by a group of eight students accompanied by two teachers in the summer of 1999. The group stayed on the forest land and interacted closely with the Kaigal village community for three days. During this period they also studied their land use patterns, made a land use map, conducted a door-to-door socioeconomic survey and spent a lot of time talking with the people. In the process, they got close to the school teachers and the Anganwadi teacher at Kaigal. This preliminary visit was followed by a second visit by another group of six students in the summer of 2000, again leading to close interaction with the community and a study of their different occupations. A detailed field study was also conducted on livestock and dairy products, silk-rearing, food and nutrition, and fuelwood consumption in the village. A documentation of the diversity of trees and butterflies on the KFI forest land was simultaneously initiated.

The methodology of a field study

The learning value in field studies of this kind lies more in the entire process involved, rather than the final outcome. It is therefore worth mentioning here briefly the kind of activities we engaged in while working in the field. The days usually started very early in the mornings and we would be on the site by about 8 a.m. The morning of the first day was spent in going around and getting a feel of the village. This involved meeting the people, talking with them, visiting the local school, interacting with the teachers, walking through the fields, peeping into large open wells, watching brick-making and so on. We also spent time observing and identifying (where possible) all kinds of life forms, from small waterferns to fishes, spiders, birds and snakes. For example, we sat by the local lake and counted the egrets and other water birds. The same evening and the next morning were spent in mapping the land-use. The students moved around the different areas of the village in small groups, and attempted to represent as many features of the village (the distribution of the houses in the settlement, cattle sheds, piggeries, agricultural fields, water bodies and the like) in the form of a map. This gave them a better understanding of the elements that comprise the village ecosystem. They also identified key aspects that could be included in a comprehensive survey.

The next two days were spent in performing the survey: students and teachers visited almost all the village households, sat with them and collected information. The people were very friendly and cooperative and we were invariably treated to hot milk, roasted peanuts, jaggery and sugarcane! Sample households were selected from the socioeconomic survey data for further studying specific aspects such as dairy farming, sericulture, nutrition and fuelwood consumption. The last day was usually spent in tabulating and analyzing the data. Students then prepared detailed reports of their work.

A glimpse of the field study data

Some of the interesting information obtained from the surveys:

Total number if households included in the survey (about 95%)


Total population

411 (Males: 212; Females: 199)

Male/female ratio

Male: female ratio (adults)


Male:female ratio (children) 83: 77

Adult males


Adult Females


Male children


Female children


Main crops cultivated

Ragi, Paddy, Peanut, Toor, Chilly, Sugarcane and Coconut.

Main occupations other than agriculture

Dairy and Sericulture

Dairy data

Approximate milk produced per household

7 litres/day

Total milk yield in the village

192 litres/day

Milk sold to the dairy

146 litres/day

Dung production (could be used for biogas generation)

Average total yield

2192 kgs.

Given above is just a glimpse of the information generated by the students during their interactions with the village community.

The visits to Palamner now became more frequent (at least once a month) and the work diversified into two areas:

  1. Diversity inventory on the KFI land
  2. Interaction with the primary school in Kaigal village.

i. Diversity Inventory:

This is an area that was taken up with keen interest. Three students of class 12, students of Environmental Science, took up as part of their project work documentation of the diversity of tree species and butterfly species. This was done over three visits (involving 15 hrs of field work) and their data has been written up as reports. Two of the students have even prepared a field guide to the common butterflies of the Kaigal land!

The area covered by this initial study is approximately 15, 000 square meters, stretching from the main road to the stream beyond the waterfall. Simple ecological field methods of sampling were adopted for generating the information. So far, 38 species of butterflies and 55 species of trees have been documented. Among these, nine different species of Ficus have been seen in this area (Ficus species are considered one of the keystone species in tropical rain forests). Some of the common trees are Albizziz amara, Pongamia glabra, Tamarindus indicus, Sizyzium cumini, Millingtonia hortensis, Ficus glabra and Wrightea tinctorea. Some of the common butterfly species are Mottled emigrant, Common leopard, Common emigrant, Common crow, Crimson rose, Crimson tip, Dark brand bush brown and the Plain tiger. These preliminary studies will be followed by a lot more work over the seasons and years.

ii. Interaction with the Kaigal village school:

All through the process of our interaction with the village community, we were keen on doing relevant work at the school level. We felt that it would be a great learning experience for all concerned if we could attempt to introduce interesting methods of teaching different skills to the children. This urge and enthusiasm culminated in four programmes with the children of the Kaigal school. Three of these were at Kaigal itself, the first on the school premises and next two on KFI land. In December 2000, a group of fifteen students (from class 5) and two adults from the village came to the Valley school and spent three days here. During this period they worked with artisans, along with our own students, at the Art Village, spent time with the students of classes 3 and 4 in the class room, and played with them on the games field.

Future plans

Since the interactions described above have been very enriching for those of us who have been a part of this project from the very initial stages, we would like to extend the scope of the project. Some plans for the future are on the anvil. The interactions with the Kaigal primary school will continue, as far as possible, at least once a month. We also plan to initiate, with the help of an experienced NGO, a programme on fuel – efficient, appropriate energy alternatives for the village community. The biodiversity inventory and monitoring will continue, with students taking the initiative over the summer vacations. We plan to initiate more conservation efforts in the forest land, one of which is the development of a tourist awareness programme for the many weekend picnickers who come to enjoy the Kaigal Falls, but leave behind a trail of litter and plastic waste. For a small school involved in such a conservation project, we find that the possibilities for learning about the land and working with the people continue to unfold.