The vast plot of land of the Marpaling School, situated at an altitude of 3600 m (about 11’800 ft) was desert and swept by violent winds before the RZA installed an irrigation system to reforest it. Now, hundreds of trees, willows and poplars grow around the school. They bring shade and protection against the wind to the schoolchildren.
The RZA blazed a trail by building experimental greenhouses in 2004 in the Pipcha village and on the Marpaling plot. These greenhouses, half-buried and insulated by means of a double-sided wall, ensure the harvesting of vegetables even in the depth of winter. It constitutes a valuable source of fresh food and vitamins during the coldest season. The RZA trained the villagers so much so that men build the greenhouses and women manage them.
A big greenhouse has been built on the Marpaling plot. It covers a part of the teachers’ needs and is also used for pedagogic programs with the schoolchildren.
Agronomy and permaculture
In 2010, the RZA hired a Swiss agronomist on the occasion of his civil service (a pacifist alternative to compulsory military service).
He succeeded in achieving to build a big vegetable garden on the Marpaling ground, formerly desert, and got an impressive harvest of vegetables.
This agronomist also started permaculture, which is a “gentle” form of agriculture improving the quality of the soil to get long-term production without using fertilizer or pesticides, on the basis of good associations of plants and the creation of humus. This strict process requires to run some tests over the years and it needs to be adapted to the extreme climate conditions of the place.
In 2011, a second Swiss agronomist picked up the project to keep it going in Zanskar. Both professionals trained local people on-site meticulously in order to guarantee the continuity and the autonomy of the project.
Some coordinated projects in agricultural technique improvement, kitchen garden for indigenous plants and biodiversity inventory are currently being developed.
Teachers and schoolchildren are largely associated to these projects. They take part in gardening and harvesting. It allows them to be more sensitive to environmental issues and it trains them to new techniques.