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Greening villages, one step at a time

Even as concern over the impact of climate change increases, contributions of several women, farmers and innovators have raised hopes of mitigation as well as adaptation in the villages of India. Such efforts need to be promoted on a much bigger scale – and the International Climate Fund can help in this respect, says the writer

When Leela Devi first went to her marital home in Tilonia Village in Ajmer district of Rajasthan, she had not heard of solar energy. But making use of the solar centre of the Barefoot College (BC) near her new home, she learnt enough within a year to set up rural solar units and assemble solar lanterns. Later, as India’s External Affairs Ministry teamed up with BC to start an international programme for training women as barefoot solar engineers for rural solar energy systems, Leela and other friends from BC came together to form a team of trainers.

Nearly 3000 ‘solar mamas’ or women barefoot solar engineers from India and abroad have been trained here and solar units installed by them are operational in remote villages of many countries. When I visited the Tilonia campus, a group of women, (some of them grandmothers) from Zambia, Chad, Kenya and other countries was being trained. Monica from Tanzania was among the few who could speak English. “Yes, language was a problem initially for us, but we women have a way of overcoming such minor hurdles,” she laughed, adding, “I am looking forward to returning to my village to start a solar unit there.” 

Senior officials and scientists visit a Mangal Turbine site. Photo: Mangal Singh

Solar power is not the only avenue of green energy. Mangal Singh, a farmer from Bhailoni Lodh Village (Lalitpur District of Uttar Pradesh), the inventor of the Mangal Turbine which uses the energy of flowing water to lift water from streams and canals, replacing diesel oil as fuel, estimates that a single unit can reduce over 335 tonnes GHG emission over its 15-year lifetime. This increases significantly with a few adjustments. The MT is used for work such as crop processing and can find wide acceptance not just in India but worldwide wherever suitable conditions exist. Mangal Singh, who has a patent, told this writer, “I basically want my invention to benefit farmers and the environment.”

The Union Government set up the Maithani Committee to review the invention and the committee recommended steps to popularise it, something which the government is yet to do. Mangal Singh is in his seventies now and not in good health – no time should be lost in implementing the recommendations of the committee. As a first step, at least 100 MTs should be set up and young technicians trained by the inventor to carry on the work.

Farming methods can be geared to be more environment-friendly. The Gorakhpur Environment Action Group (GEAG), a leading NGO, has been co-ordinating the work of spreading ecologically friendly farming practices among hundreds of densely-populated villages in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

Prabhavati, a farmer whom I met in Dudhai Village, was growing nearly 50 crops organically in her small farm and garden, combining grains, vegetables, fruits, spices, flowers, herbs and bamboo with a cattleshed and composting unit. She explained that rotations and mixed cropping are planned such that one crop supports another. Such farming techniques help to improve the soil, facilitating absorption of carbon. They also help intake and retention of moisture by roots, improving crop resilience to adverse weather conditions. By avoiding chemical fertilisers, the ill-effects of greenhouse gasses are avoided.

Many farmers are re-discovering the benefits of biodiversity and protecting diverse varieties of crops. Vijay Jardhari has been coordinating a Save the Seeds effort in Himalayan villages of Uttarakhand. “By saving our mixed farming system of barahanaja (a system in which about 12 species of millets, legumes, spices and oilseeds can be grown together even on land with low fertility) we are not only protecting our nutrition base, we are also preparing for difficult times brought about by climate change,” he points out.

June 2022