Suprabha Seshan

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2005


This profile was prepared when Suprabha Seshan was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.
The New Idea
The Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary is situated in the southern Indian state of Kerala, one of the last bastions of tropical rainforests on the subcontinent. In this ecologically fragile and endangered forest land, Suprabha advocates the Gurukula model to explain the importance of geographically-specific biodiversity and its connection to ecological resilience. Her methodology is about diagnostic healing and restoration rather than simply conserving what remains or “greening” the landscape.
Moving away from conventional theories about indiscriminate reforestation that ignores gene pools endemic to regions and ecosystems, Suprabha and her team have painstakingly brought back on the Gurukula lands a rainforest habitat that supports a myriad of plant life, with each contributing to  change in the micro-climate and water table. This restoration has enabled the return of rare native animals, birds, and insect species—some believed to have been extinct—and raised the water table beyond expectations. It has also shown local people how they, as an intrinsic part of this natural cycle, may contribute and benefit from sustaining the model, while also initiating new and urgently needed land-management practices throughout India.
Suprabha is taking the gurukula (meaning “house of the teacher”), out of the garden to where its lessons are needed. The Ministry of Environment and Forests is keen to grant the Gurukula Lead Garden status and finances to enable Suprabha to train botanists and forest officials in ecosystem gardening.
Suprabha has introduced “ecosystem gardening”, a term used rarely in India, to the widening public debate on how to improve degraded habitat. The name Gurukula captures how Suprabha intends her work to spread. It is a “School in the Forest” where local villagers may train to be horticulturists or “gardeners”, and schoolchildren, teachers, scientific researchers, and policymakers learn and physically participate in the process through extended tours and study programs. Among over 1,800 botanic gardens worldwide, no other offers residential participation and learning for visitors on their grounds.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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