VANASTREE - the Malnad Forest Garden and Seedkeepers’ Collective

Karkolli Village, near Sirsi | India

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Research and do field and office work to develop and protect the local environment in the hilly Malenadu region of the Western Ghats in Southern India, a biodiversity hotspot of the world. Current projects (2011) include sustainable business management and product design with a seed collective of local women, helping them set up their value added enterprise independently; web design; and environmental education. Ongoing and past projects include field documentation and writing, field visits, tree planting, earth work, seed sorting and packing, or manual work, as well as specific help with festivals or workshops, promotion, graphic art, design and communication, green building and architecture, etc.

About the Organization

Vanastree, meaning “Women of the forest” in Kannada, is a small collective dedicated to promoting forest garden biodiversity and food security through the conservation of traditional seeds.

Vanastree’s members all work and farm in the Uttara Kannada (North Kannada) district of Karnataka. The district comprises the Malnad, or hilly region of the Western Ghats, the coastal belt, and parts of the drier regions to the east. Known as the spice capital of India as well as one of the 18 biodiversity “hotspots” recognized by biologists worldwide, this district hosts a variety of landscapes, peoples and environmental challenges.

The Western Ghats mountain range is covered for the most part by tropical forest and features a number of endemic species, including not only mammals, birds and insects but also food and medicinal plants. Sadly, the region faces many threats to its delicate ecology, such as deforestation, rapid development, and lack of enforcement of existing environmental laws.

Vanastree’s mission Vanastree works to combat all of the above problems by maintaining the traditional, localized food system of Uttara Kannada district through the conservation of seeds. We recognize the importance of traditional seeds as a source of independence and nutritious, plentiful food for those who grow them. In addition, forest home gardens serve as refuges of biodiversity for both cultivated and wild crops, and can serve as an important extra source of income for women and an educational tool for the community.

Our activities Presently, the collective has a modest seed collection, is documenting the home garden diversity of the area, and produces a variety of products through conservation-oriented enterprises (COEs). Other accomplishments and ongoing projects include:

  • Distributing over packets of organic, open-pollinated seeds (3000 to date)

  • Forming seed exchange groups and strengthening existing ones

  • Establishing both a decentralized regional seed bank among individual gardeners and a central seed bank in Sirsi town

  • Participating in several annual melas, festivals and exhibitions promoting biodiversity and seed saving

Interns will divide their time between Huthina Betta, a homestead and experiential learning center in the village of Karkolli, and the Vanastree office in the nearby city of Sirsi. In addition, interns will conduct field visits with Vanastree members and attend workshops and other events in nearby cities as needed.

Huthina Betta is an effort toward ecologically sensitive living, combining land restoration with agroforestry. It is the home of Sunita Rao, a founding trustee of Vanastree. The homestead comprises nine acres, including a cottage and outbuildings, orchard, and vegetable garden. Most of the land has been reforested, and Sunita is conducting ongoing projects in green architecture and design to make her home as livable and low-impact as possible. Paths running through the property facilitate long, meditative walks, with rest stops overlooking the paddy fields and forest.

Vanastree’s Sirsi office offers a quiet and convenient working environment. Interns will have access to internet here, although bringing a laptop will be helpful as our computer resources are limited. Sirsi is a busy town of over 70,000, and the office is within walking distance of shopping facilities and the main bus stands. From there, connections to Bangalore (10 hours), Goa (5 hours), and other cities are easy to make.

Filled with laughter, color, serenity, tempting aromas, beautiful forests, and sobering experiences, life in the village communities of Uttara Kannada provides excellent opportunities to learn about the fragility and durability of life, human relationships with the earth and, simply, what life is like in a certain part of rural India. These are lessons that supplement academic studies well but cannot be replicated in a classroom.

See a trailer for the upcoming documentary, "Vanastree: Women of the Forest" at

Job Description

Many projects will depend on the intern's background and interests with opportunities available in environmental studies, agro-ecology, anthropology, green architecture, ecologically sensitive business, womens' studies and design, and art & craft. Other projects also available. Interns will also do weekend homestays to learn about the local culture and agriculture. As the organization changes and develops, so will the role of the intern. Tasks may vary according to interest and intern initiation, but possible projects include:

  • Working with the women's collective to help them develop sustainable business practices
  • Producing a handbook for home gardeners
  • Continuing documentation work
  • Organizing trainings for collective members
  • Helping with research projects
  • Designing posters, product packaging, brochures, etc.
  • Fundraising and grantwriting

  • Conservation oriented business development
  • Making brief films
  • All internships will include an orientation to the area and its environmental issues. Interns will also spend time each week reviewing what has been accomplished and setting new goals. Longer internships can also be discussed, and there are internship openings for graduate and doctoral students.

    # of Positions per term


    Start Dates

    Fall, Winter, and Spring quarters (not offered summer due to the monsoon’s effect on activities)

    Duration of Internship

    3-6 months

    Academic Background

    Students from a variety of backgrounds will be considered, but the following are of particular interest: Business (accounting and management), Tropical agro-forestry (including nursery and seed work); Agriculture; Ecology, environment and, development; Graphic design and Art; Marketing or social entrepreneurship; Product and package design; Carpentry and masonry (for our green architecture and design),Food gardening and sustainable food systems, Anthropology, Women's Studies, Rural Studies and Sustainable Livelihoods, Web design/networking, Media/Film making, Journalism/writing/editing, Alternative technologies (energy/toilets), Food culture/cooking/local cuisine


    Students with backgrounds in the following fields are highly encouraged to apply: Business (accounting and management) Tropical agro-forestry (including nursery and seed work) Agriculture (including practical work) Ecology and environmental Development and conservation-oriented enterprises Carpentry and masonry (for our green architecture and design) Graphic design and Art (including computer skills) Marketing or social entrepreneurship Product and package design

    Language Ability

    No Hindi or Kannada is required for this internship, but an enthusiasm to learn and preparation before leaving will go a long way.

    Other Requirements

    It is important that students arrive in India with enthusiasm and interest in the work of the collective, an open heart and mind, and a cheerful demeanor to complement the friendly, welcoming and active personalities of the region. General physical fitness and mental preparation to live and participate in the activities of the community are also necessary. Interns are expected to be highly motivated and work independently although the supervisor will also be closely involved in the planning and execution of the work taken on. Being able to ride a bicycle will be an asset.

    Total costs vary depending on how long you plan to be abroad, where you will be living, your personal spending habits, and current exchange rates. The following estimates will give you a ballpark figure for this internship. Get help with the math from our handy Cost Calculator and currency converter.

    IE3 Program Fee

    The IE3 program fee is $3450 for the first term for both in-state and out-of-state students and $1000 for each additional term. This fee includes up to 12 credits per term, and is charged in lieu of tuition. Visit your University's IE3 page for details regarding campus administrative fees.

    Estimated One-Time Expenses

    Expense Type Price
    International Travel $1500-$2100
    Visa Fees $100-$150
    Recommended Immunizations $300-$800

    *See Additional Cost Information below.

    Estimated Monthly Expenses

    Expense Type Price/month
    Housing $575-$625* (See additional Information tab)
    Food $20
    Local Transportation $30
    Recreation $100 (depends on travel)
    Personal Expenses $50



    Additional Expense Information

    *The Vanastree room & board fee (including meals, lodging, laundry service, access to a cell phone and one weekend homestay per month) is 30,000 Rupees/month. This covers housing and meals, time spent by the supervisor and collective members in orienting the intern, helping her/him learn and execute the work taken on, travel to the office and field visits, overheads to the collective or associated NGO, and other sundry expenses. It also includes accommodation and travel for projects in the area around Sirsi, internet access at the office (broadband) and access to a cell phone. The amount will be paid monthly to Vanastree. Food at Huthina Betta will be mostly vegetarian (can easily be all vegetarian or vegan if needed) with seafood once or twice a week depending on season and availability. A good portion of the food will be organic and locally grown. The area is famous for its delicious cuisine!

    Interns who plan to travel should budget additional money for their expenses.

    Read a report from a recent intern's experience at ElisaWin2012finalreport.pdfElisaWin2012finalreport.pdf.

    See a trailer for the upcoming documentary, "Vanastree: Women of the Forest" at

    Weekends may be used to visit nearby areas. For big city thrills, Bangalore is an overnight bus ride and Goa and Mangalore on the coast are 5 hours and 7 hours away respectively.

    Read a blog post by former intern, Tuula Rebhahn.

    Articles about the 2010 Malnad Mela:

    Deccan Herald

    Article about the Malnad Mela Festival from India Together.

    Please refer to the VANASTREE website for more details on the Malnad Forest Garden and Seed Keeper's Collective.

    Field Notes Postings:

      Priorities by Cadi Poile: IE3 Scholarship Recipient and University of Washington student interning with VANASTREE in India (August 18, 2011)