On July 28, 2008 the Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA hosted Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, prime minister of the Central Tibetan Administration (the official Tibetan government in exile). During his visit, Professor Rinpoche met with the leaders of the Himalayan Institute’s humanitarian projects to discuss some of the struggles faced by Tibetans in exile and discover how the HI Community Center vision could serve the Tibetan refugees in India.
After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959, India granted asylum to the Dalai Lama and thousands of Tibetans fleeing with him. Currently, there are 37 Tibetan refugee settlements across the Indian subcontinent, which accommodate over 100,000 Tibetans. The Tibetan refugees, despite displacement, have maintained their rich culture and tradition, but they face many challenges. Years of conventional farming have depleted the soil and decreased crop yields. Concerned for their financial futures in the settlement, the youth are leaving in large numbers to find other work in India’s urban centers. The community’s elders worry that there will be no one in the next generation to carry on the spiritual and cultural traditions of Tibet.
The Himalayan Institute in partnership with the Central Tibetan Administration is working to bring HI Community Center empowerment programs to the Tibetan refugee settlements. These efforts begin with the Energy Farming program, promoting sustainable agriculture and green energy. Cultivation of the Pongamia pinnata tree is a central activity of Energy Farming. Pongamia pinnata is a tall shade tree native to South India. It is drought resistant, nitrogen-fixing helping to reinvigorate exhausted soil, and most importantly, its seeds are an excellent source of biodiesel. Biodiesel can be used to run generators and farm equipment or it can be mixed with petroleum-based diesel as a fuel additive. This introduction to the energy market will supply Tibetan refugees with an important cash crop, which in turn will create more jobs and encourage the youth to remain in the community.
50 acres have been selected at the Rabgayling settlement to be used for the first Energy Farming demonstration plot where farmers can come to see how pongamia is grown. 10,000 seedlings will be raised in nurseries and then planted in the demonstration plot as well as along the edge of the settlement where elephants from the neighboring forest have been entering fields and stealing crops. Three rows of pongamia trees will act as a live fence, bordering a 12 foot deep, 9 kilometer long elephant trench keeping the elephants out. In addition, an Energy Farming training facility will offer classes on pongamia cultivation and other Energy Farming techniques. In time, with care and patience the seeds planted will bear fruit and these new economic opportunities will help to sustain the Tibetan community and culture.
For further reading see “Tibet in Exile—A Green Evolution”.