Shiswad is in the midst of the magnificent Sahyadris, in the Western Ghats, in Northern Maharashtra. Sangamner, about 2 hours from Shiswad is the last town you will find on your way to this village. One might wonder if the remoteness of Shiswad is being stressed upon here. The truth is that it is. Done and dusted already as you pass this chaotic town, you will forget every little bit of the tiring journey as you approach the Ghats. Whether car sick or sleep deprived, the first view of the Ghats will transform your attentiveness from anything else that is on your mind to a deep meditative state. As you come closer and closer to Shiswad, tranquility and serenity seeps in. A liberating, fresh, cool air surrounds you. Something that goes beyond what words can express.
The village never tires of visitors, so if you become an object of curiosity to little children, even though they may have already seen quite a few tourists, there’s absolutely nothing to worry about. As you enter the village, artistic doorways will greet you, unusual stone sculpture carelessly embedded on foundations will intrigue you, a line of oddly shaped stones- the local deities will bless you. And the colourful temple under the huge spreading banyan tree gives you a glimpse another lifestyle.
After the long journey, your stomach will be growling for some good food. And Shiswad doesn’t disappoint you.
A group of women in Shiswad are busy working. What’s cooking, you say. Utensils can be heard clinking against each other. The smoky aroma of freshly made Bhakri (Jowar or Bajra bread) and caramelized onions cooking permeates the air. Sita and her fellow SHG colleagues have set up a local enterprise at Shiswad and now they are busy cooking a sumptuous, traditional and authentic meal for Shiswad’s visitors. The promise of melt-in-the-mouth, thick and jaggery sweetened Malche (traditional pancakes), fills you with anticipation…
The pressure on Sita’s is like that of feeding an army battalion. However, the satisfied looks on her customer’s faces keep her going, and in moments the tired look vanishes. She knows that she has successfully prepared you for what comes next…
… an introduction to a different world…
Imagine being on a nature trail through lush green forests filled with more than 150 species of trees, shrubs and herbs…the tall Jambhul, the spreading Mango, the healing Hirda… imagine the prospect of sighting more than a 100 species of birds … pairs of Bonelli’s Eagles, who mate for life, preening Yellow-footed Green pigeons (they are the state bird of Maharashtra afterall), Pale billed flower peckers flitting and Oriental Scops Owls dozing in the trees…
… also Mongoose, Monitor lizards, snakes and skinks… and if you are very, very lucky (and very very quiet) Black-naped hare, langur, wild boar and (hold your breath)leopard crossing your tracks…
… add to this a host of butterflies in fields of flowers competing in a contest of color, Cicadas and frogs performing an orchestra and fireflies lighting up the nights…
… yes! You are in Shiswad!
(Nature trails and hikes can be arranged into the surrounding areas with local youths as guides.)
Back at the village are a bunch of tents that give you an ‘out in the wild experience’. (There is also an option of a cute little guest house smack in the middle of the village for the less ‘wild’ types.)
Located near the common village tank high on top of a hill, away from the village but within calling distance, they offer you the most breath-taking, 70 mm sight of the looming ancient Sahyadri. And as the evening fades silently into night, pinpricks in a darkening blue sky reveal themselves to be a breathtaking display of stars. The night sky at Shiswad cannot be imagined, only experienced.
Clearly, a journey to Shiswad is not just a picnic, a holiday or a good time. It is much more than that. It is gaining a fresh perspective to life.
High in the jagged land of the Western Ghats, this region is one of the bio-diversity hot-spots of the world. It preserves the delicate natural balance, essential for all life on earth and so needs to be conserved. Shiswad Ecotourism is an integrated effort toward Biodiversity conservation and also to provide sustainable livelihoods to the community. This has the dual aim of adaptation to Climate Change, as well as to reconnect communities bombarded by the rising trend of globalisation, with the natural wealth they possess and make them realise the importance and advantages of its conservation.
No hotels, liveried waiters or air-conditioning here. There are no insulations here from the reality of a hard life- the life of tribal farmers here has hardly changed for centuries. In few short hours, you can help farmers thresh wheat, harvest rice, chop wood, plough fields, milk cattle, rappel down slopes, hike up hills, swim in a crystal clear river, catch crabs, and most importantly do whatever your heart wants- roam, rejuvenate, introspect…
So, welcome to a look at life, Shiswad-style- Raw, Rustic and Real.
There’s a new demon on the block lately. You may have heard of it. Penguins usually model for its publicity posters. Yes, it’s called CLIMATE CHANGE.
The solutions presented for this new problem are however, not new- sustainable development with ‘green’ practices- biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, energy conservation… Green activists and government officials fly to green conferences all over the world and lay down green regulations and make green pacts.
But what many have neglected to examine is the peculiarity of the problem itself. Climate Change coupled with the problem of ecosystem degradation and biodiversity is not good news at all.
Biodiversity loss is not only about loss of species of flora and fauna; like,
the impending disappearance of the Iberian Bald-headed Eagle or the Bengal Tiger; something seemingly far away from our humdrum day-to-day lives. It is about degrading ecosystems – forests, grasslands, freshwater, marine and other natural ecosystems that provide a range of services, vital to human welfare but never accounted for in our GDPs- regulating water flows, pollination, detoxification and recycling of nutrients and sequestering carbon, among other functions we don’t even know yet. As more and more animals, birds, trees and plants and even microbes are dropping off the web of life, the planet’s carbon-cycle is getting distorted and barriers and counters to the impact of natural disasters are weakened.
Biodiversity loss is also the disappearance of crops, livestock, fruit and fish species that are hardy, highly adapted to local conditions and have sustained civilisations for centuries, in the best and worst of times. It is also disappearing cultural practices and local knowledge systems that were geared, customized and catered to surviving in a particular region.
Climate Change- unpredictable changes in climatic behaviour- is itself a stress for biodiversity, and healthy, biodiverse ecosystems that can relieve climate stresses are now scarce, making the region more susceptible to climate disasters. Most importantly, the high variability of this problem makes predictions and forewarned precautions almost impossible- making us sitting ducks for disasters.
So, biodiversity loss, degraded ecosystems and climate change are finally about Vulnerability. We need is solutions which improve a community’s resilience and coping abilities, in the face of unpredictable climate disasters, which are now steadily increasing in intensity and frequency.
Sustainable development needs to be bolstered by Adaptation. But the path to this Adaptive Sustainable Development has more twists and turns than the usual Conservation approach. It must take into account what drives people’s behaviour, their needs and aspirations today…
…which brings us to another ‘green’ thing- Money, of course.
The Economics Connect
Economics is the main driver of decision-making today – at individual, community, national and international levels. Growth and Development have largely come to be equated with economic well-being. All human progress is now driven by this underlying aspiration towards economic growth.
Let’s take the real life case of 2 villages in WOTR’s Climate Change Adaptation project area- Shiswad in Akole Taluka and Sarole Pathar in Sangamner Taluka, Maharashtra:
Shiswad is a village in the Sahyadri (Western Ghats.) It is a high rainfall area and good forest cover. Sarole Pathar is a pathar village, i.e. it lies in the semi-arid pathar region- the rainshadow of the Sahyadri. Shiswad is quite far away from any main road, while Sarole Pathar is very close to the arterial Pune-Nasik Highway.
Sarole Pathar’s history of Watershed Development has made it water- as well as economically-rich. People here extensively grow cash crops and have strong linkages with the market, which means, the Sarole Pathar tomatoes and onions reach big cities like Pune, Ahmednagar and Nashik, a number of houses in the village are made of concrete, have TVs and other electronic goods, kitchens have LPG gas stoves and there are ready-made clothes, cosmetics and Over The Counter medicines, aerated drinks and chips in the village grocery stores.
The people of Shiswad and the surrounding villages still grow a variety of local crops, which forms the mainstay of their diet. They also depend on forest produce to meet their daily needs-firewood-based kitchens, bamboo goods like Kangi to store grain and Malai to catch fish, wood, stone and mud houses made by village craftspeople and a surviving faith in ayurvedic healers. There are very few grocery shops in the entire Akole region.
The thing is that even though from the outside, Sarole Pathar shows all the signs of economic growth and progress, compared to the villages of Akole, looking deeper, we see is that both are equally vulnerable.
Following this argument, one would expect to deduce that Akole is vulnerable to climate vagaries and Sarole Pathar to market volatility. But the scary thing is that both the places are vulnerable to both these factors: climate vagaries and market volatility!
It’s easy to see that Akole is natural resource dependent and Sarole Pathar market dependent. But ultimately, unexpected climate disasters, like a recent cold wave in February 2012, don’t necessarily discriminate between irrigated, cash crops and rain, fed-food crops.
Decisions of people in both the regions are determined by external forces. Mirabai Patangare from Sarole Pathar has a firm opinion, “We know that a cash-crop driven, hybrid-seed dependent agriculture may not be the most sustainable. But this is what gives us a higher yield and it is demand of the market, which is what we have to cater to in the end.” She goes on to say, “…we need money, cash, to educate our children, pay medical bills, and buy things, don’t we?”
Globalisation has exposed even small rural economies to non-local spending on goods and services. They are now no longer sheltered from the fluctuations in the larger economy and global events. Recessions and inflation hit the poor in a village as much as they hit the rich in cities.
As Navsu Pore, from Shiswad says, “Even migration is no longer an option… because the farmers in Narayangaon (the nearest small town) are also suffering the effects of climate variability. They have no jobs to give us, so we have to return back to our villages…” Akole also aspires toward the same model of growth and the natural resource base is facing depletion. Some farmers here too have started planting cash crops.
The entry of cheaper, mass produced goods from cities and a growing demand for them has resulted in the systematic erosion of local non-farm livelihood options too. This has spiralled the local populations further and further away from local self-sufficiency toward dependence on external enterprise. 92-95% of local resources from both Sarole Pathar and Akole area drain out of the local economy.
At WOTR, we are working with communities to tackle the twin threats of climate and market vagaries by building economic resilience towards both, Climate Change and Globalisation.
The Link: The Integrated Solution
The web of life that sustains life on earth is made up of a mind-boggling diversity of species, relationships and processes. Nature actually functions on diversity. Even the problem of Climate Change is not a uniform one. It is characterised by unpredictability, but also a range of effects and manifestations. Can we take a cue from this? Can the rationale of the solution come from the problem itself?
WOTR’s approach integrates Biodiversity concerns and Local Livelihoods, brings together Ecosystem and Economics for Adaptation to Climate Change. And it aims to incorporate the value of Diversity in every sphere to increase and sustain overall resilience.
An indicator for measuring the economic resilience of a given region is the concept of LM3 or Local Money Multiplier. Financial health does not only mean how much the community earns but also how much money it is able to circulate within its local economy, creating real local wealth. Resilience will be built if non local spending is controlled and local spending is increased, so that more money stays within the village i.e. a move toward Localisation rather than Globalisation. Local Livelihoods are crucial towards building this resilience against economic shocks.
So now the attempt is to connect each key component of the program to this local resilience, which basically means diversifying options in everything: Watershed Development, Natural Resource Management (Ecosystem and Biodiversity rejuvenation), Agriculture, Income Generation and Enterprise Development.
In our Watershed Development programmes, afforestation activities are geared towards promoting nurseries of locally adapted and hardy species that people can use to meet their needs. The nursery raising itself becomes a livelihood activity. Also an assured income from labour payments for watershed work by partnering with government schemes like NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme) helps people have the financial and mental support to become local entrepreneurs. The watershed treatments themselves are being redesigned to adapt to sudden, high onsets of rainfall minimizing damage.
In Agriculture, appropriate technical inputs are provided like SRI (System of Rice intensification), crop distance, soil testing, nutrient supplements to increase productivity, while still promoting adaptive sustainable methods: low external inputs, indigenous seed varieties, organic fertilisers, diversified cropping patterns that are for sustenance as well as market-based. These are combined with which water-efficient techniques that ensure that every drop of water is optimally used.
Livestock provides excellent alternate avenues of income. Instead of high-input hybrid livestock, small ruminants like goats and sheep, backyard poetry and even raising rabbits are a low-input, high-output solution. Among large cattle, hardy, indigenous breeds are promoted.
Opportunities in non-farm activities to cater to local demands are provided to educated youth from the area, who can apply and engage themselves locally. Along with encouraging the youth to learn from traditional knowledge in the community like, ayurvedic medicine and a variety of local skills-arts and crafts, the youth is also engaged in developmental activities. Eg: The youth is actively involved in the Eco tourism initiative in Shiswad village in Akole region of Maharastra.
Alternate energy for lighting and cooking (Solar street and home lights, Solar Parabolic Cookers and Hot water chullahs) that can meet energy needs while reducing the carbon footprint as much as possible becomes means for Climate Change mitigation. The setting up and maintenance work of these decentralised energy solutions become new employment opportunities for interested entrepreneurs from the village.
… and last but not the least, promoting People’s Biodiversity Registers build awareness about local flora and fauna, to foster a conservation approach in the community as well as make people aware that they and their future generations should have a stake in their own valuable natural wealth. Non-timber forest produce further diversifies food and income options, albeit keeping a constant check on their sustainable extraction.
A community’s resource base is divided into 5 capitals- Natural, Physical, Financial, Human and Social, all of which are equally necessary to the community. They need to balance each other and move together to drive Adaptive Sustainable Development. There is hope that Diversification and Localization as Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change could make that elusive connect between short-term and long-term, resource utilisation and conservation.
Eco- and People-friendly Economics- what a wonderful possibility!
There are a bunch of Doomsday Prophets and ‘Green’ Proponents telling all who wish or do
not wish to listen that we are creating a huge problem on planet Earth. Humans are polluting, degrading, depleting and annihilating living and non-living elements of the Earth (that we term ‘resources’) and basically playing dangerous games with the very delicate balance that allows this planet to support life forms (at least, the kind we know and are used to.)
But I only play PSP games?
Here ‘games’ means, messing with stuff.
So, till a couple of centuries back, humans had more reverence than technological prowess and this kind of wanton exploitation didn’t happen so much. But now the bulldozer of Globalisation, with its desire to fulfil infinitely growing demands for growth, has no regard whatsoever for natural beauty, other life forms, or even communities and groups of people with lesser material power.
They can’t afford the bulldozer?
Yeah, of course they can’t afford it. So it’s kind of like, ‘if you are not with us, you are against us’. Got it?
And now things are turning rather serious. The planet seems to have become rather unpredictable; Capricious is the word. The weather’s gone berserk- going hot, cold, rainy whenever it wants, like there is no tomorrow. We are taking too much from the earth, there is not enough to go around and the landlady’s not too happy with the party. So according to the aforementioned Doomsdays & Greens, this destruction of the environment has got to stop.
Or else it’s DOOMSDAY. Dude, catch up, will you?
Oh, oh! I got you now. What’s that word? Alto… altistic… Altruistic! We need to be Altruistic. We need to consume less. Sacrifice! The Earth needs to be saved!
Hey, hey, hey, hold on. Look around you. You see anyone ready to sacrifice? Altruism has never worked. People debate back and forth about the reasons and the very likelihood of this impending doom. We go on and on about saving the environment. But what about the fact that there are a lot people out there who simply cannot afford to think of things happening up in the clouds or in the future, while they can barely survive on their own lands today? They are the worst hit in a resource crisis and if the planet starts behaving strangely. And why should those who are not struggling simply give up the life they lead? No, ALTRUISM is definitely not the magic formula. What we need is some sense and sensibility.
We at WOTR have been listening with an ear to the ground. The people have spoken. The sum of the parts is larger than the whole.
Eh? You kinda lost me there….
What I am saying is, it is time to go beyond the debates and the jargon. If one really heard the doomsday people out for once, the problem is not for planet earth’s survival, but for our survival on planet Earth. It is in the collective interest of all of humanity that we search for new solutions; really sustainable and fair ones this time, which will address the needs of People and Planet.
WOTR is working with communities for adaptive sustainable development by linking Environment, Energy and Economics together to build resilience through diverse solutions.
Read on to know more about our exciting foray into this colourful, multi-faceted approach…
We are all somewhere sceptical about renewable energy. It still seems rather unbelievable that we can actually power our homes and gadgets by harnessing energy from the Sun or the Wind or for Heaven’s sake Cow dung and Organic waste!! Will there really be a time when every family just fits a solar panel or wind turbine on their rooftops and we can shut down all the oil rigs and refineries in the world? Will we really be able to afford that? It seems like some Space-age movie….
So, here are some hard facts from WOTR’s Energy wing for us to really understand what alternate/ renewable energy implies- economically, socially and environmentally.
1. Is Renewable Energy really renewable? And will it last forever?
The source of energy i.e. Sunlight, Wind, Bio Mass etc. is renewable. But the means or resources required to convert this source of energy to its usable form is not renewable. The manufacturing, transportation and everything else continues to consume fossil energy. So an embedded energy footprint is inescapable. And like every finite material on Earth, once we run out of these, energy being renewable or not will make no difference as our means of production will end. We, at WOTR, hence have our doubts about how far these “renewable” forms of energy will take humankind. Hence, we feel that maybe we should replace the term “Renewable Energy” with “Alternate Energy”.
2. Is Alternate Energy really clean?
Yes, if it is able to return all the energy it consumed to be created, in form of the electricity it generates in its lifetime, then Alternate energy can be said to be clean, i.e. Energy returned will be equal to energy invested. But at the moment, this is subject to more research and development in technology.
3. Is this new energy more expensive than our usual Grid?
It looks like that if we believe only what is shown to us. There are capital costs and operational costs in any infrastructure. Just as there are capital costs to setting up Alternate Energy units– like production, assembling and setting up of solar energy systems or windmills or biomass plants, there are the same for mainstream energy production – construction of dams, thermal plant mines, setting up power stations etc.
When costs of alternate energy are calculated, 40% of the costs involved are infrastructural costs – Solar Panels, Wind Turbines and other fixed infrastructure. 30% is for storing the energy- usually batteries, and the remaining is of LEDs, micro controllers and the rest. But our electricity bills only cover operational costs but do not reflect capital costs of mainstream energy because these are subsidized and underwritten by the government.
If Alternate Energy is also billed only for operational expenses, i.e. batteries, then the cost per unit of would come down considerably and could even compete with the Grid.
4. Will these lights give enough illumination, just like the usual tubelights and bulbs?
Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights are way more efficient than conventional tube lights, incandescent bulbs or even CFLs. They can straightaway reduce energy consumption by 60-90%! The illumination is good but the spread of light is an issue, compared to tubelights. But new designs and models are becoming available. A 7 Watt LED bulb with a diffuser can easily replace 60 Watt incandescent bulb or a T5 tubelight.
5. Is there a lot of maintenance involved in alternate energy? How often do I have to change the battery or replace the solar panel?
Not much, really. The life of a solar panel is 25 years. At the end of 20 years the panel should deliver 80% of its rated performance. One needs to clean the panels regularly for optimum performance.
LEDs come with a rated life of 40,000 burning hours. Considering average use of 6 hours a day, they should last for 15-18 years. But we are yet to experience if they actually last that long.
There are different varieties of batteries. Regular batteries are made up of lead-acid which are also used in cars and invertors. They have shorter life of 800-1000 charging cycles which may last for around 2-3 years. Then there are lithium ion batteries, which are used in mobile phones and laptops. They have a longer life – 1500 charging cycles that can last for around 5 years.
Since this technology is new, it would require some training and user experience to fully understand how it works.
6. How much energy will I realistically be saving? I mean, am I really making a difference?
As said before, Alternate energy does have an inescapable energy footprint. Since alternate energy forms would be more energy efficient, it would significantly reduce the load on fossil energy and thus in turn reduce the GHG emissions. So we will certainly make a difference.
How much of a difference we will make is a tricky thing to say because it depends on the type of alternate energy being used. Even by just replacing our existing home lighting system with LEDs we can straightaway reduce energy consumption by 60-80%. And a shift from grid to alternate home lighting saves the entire electrical load. A study estimates that the energy content in fossil fuels used at power stations is 4 times more than the energy that reaches us, which means actually saving 4 units of fossil energy for every single unit saved at our home!
7. How is this energy any different from let’s say Hydro-electricity. If my house is powered by Hydro-electricity, that is also alternate, right?
The question should really be “Is it any cleaner than alternate energy?” If we consider the environmental impacts of constructing dams on the biodiversity, ecology and habitat of an area and also social costs of displacement, then it is not doing any better compared to burning fossil fuels. Also, we are now running a risk of drying up our fossil aquifers beyond repair. We may end up having extended spells of drought which can make our rivers seasonal. In a scenario of acute water shortage, hydro power may not remain renewable.
8. Will there be a time when all appliances can run on Alternate Energy?
Yes, very much so. We at WOTR have set up a 5 KW Wind-Solar hybrid system which fully powers our training centre at Darewadi, in Ahmednagar district. We are not running, water pumps, air conditioners or geysers on alternate energy, because they will load the system too much. But basic lighting, fans, kitchen appliances and projectors for our training purposes run on this alternate system. There is a solar heater for hot water. It is an experiment, but has been doing well so far.
9. If this is all so cool, why has this technology not been implemented on a large scale yet?
Large scale shift to Alternate Energy is not easy. It has the following implications:
• Large scale primary energy: Ironically, we need lot of fossil energy to construct a Zero Carbon infrastructure. These are scarce.
• Resources: large amounts, cheap and efficiently available, which are not uniformly spread on earth. This has geopolitical as well as environmental implications.
• Land: Extensive and large scale use of land means encroaching spaces of natural, biological and cultural diversity. Conventional energy has already done this with its large-scale projects that have already displaced millions of people.
• Large scale investment and infrastructure: Separate distribution systems have to be set up for alternate energy. AE would also require Government subsidies.
• Large scale willingness: A fragmented, piecemeal approach will not bring about the energy transition. A large-scale if not Global consensus is a prerequisite.
In conclusion, there are as many questions as there are answers about Alternate Energy. Given the current climate crisis, resource depletion and energy crisis, perhaps we have lost the luxury of asking questions.
What other options do we really have to feed our society’s insatiable demand for more and more energy?
Alternate Energy may not be able to give us a happily-ever-after scenario, but it is definitely a solution, albeit short term. It can help us buy a little more time and go a long, long way to reduce emissions, which is the crying need of the hour. The energy question however, will still remain. But maybe we are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, what kind of growth and distribution plan will fuel our infinite wants with finite resources on Earth, maybe we should be asking ourselves, if it is viable (or justified) for humankind to make such a demand in the first place.
What Rural Women Want is the Hot Water Chullah (and what Men would too, if they cooked)..!
The Hot Water Chullah is an in-house design by WOTR that brings about proper oxidation and so is a more efficient and relatively smokeless chullah. In addition, it utilizes the energy lost through radiation and convection for heating water.
In rural Maharashtra, an estimated 80-85% of the households are dependent on firewood for cooking. The savings in fuel costs, cooking time, drudgery of gathering firewood and less exposure to indoor air-pollution has made it the favoured chullah-model among the women. It also seems to be less of a fire hazard than a traditional chullah.
Our design of the Hot Water Chullah is always improving based on user experience. The ability to customize the design according to the wide variety of kitchen sizes and layouts in rural India is the key to increasing its user base and popularity.
Some minor modifications that have been proposed are:
• Threading the outlet pipe so that with some plumbing, the hot water can reach the bathroom
• A wider funnel for easier pouring of water
• Reducing the height between the pan and the fire
• A narrower opening at the top for more efficient cooking
Sitting and chatting in the Khandari family kitchen in Chinchkheda, I couldn’t help remembering an incident. In another village, seeing me unable to control my eyes watering from the smoke coming from the kitchen, the man of the house closed the door to the kitchen, shutting his wife in with even more smoke, while she cooked for the family. Now, we have a solution to offer that home.
It requires considerable skill to bike up the winding, treacherous slope to Khandwawadi, a hamlet about 5 km from the main village and right at the top of the plateau or pathaar. Coming down without skidding off the muddy slope makes the upward journey look like a beginner’s track!
Although there is electricity in this hamlet, many homes have chosen to not get connected, because of very poor voltages. The power cables have been stretched so far from the hamlets at the bottom of the pathaar, that there are huge transmission losses and eventually, the light from electric bulbs is at best only marginally better than candlelight! Add to this the long, unpredictable power cuts, and the huge demand here for alternate forms of lighting is no surprise.
But some weeks back, we spent a night at Pandurang Bhor’s house and things had definitely changed. Equipped with a Solar Home light, he now proudly welcomes people to his home in the evenings for a cup of tea. Two 200 lumen fixtures are placed in his kitchen and living/bedroom and illuminate the whole house very well.
The Solar Home light system also comes equipped with a mobile phone charger, which has become hugely popular amongst his neighbours.
The reliable lighting, no monthly bill payment, minimal maintenance and the no-questions-asked-warranty worked out with the vendors, and not to forget, the mobile charger have made Solar Home lights an instant hit.
- As with all solar systems, clear, sunny days are great, but efficiency comes down on cloudy, rainy days. But in the case of Solar Street and Home lights, the batteries continue charging in a trickle fashion at least, even on the most overcast days.
- One of the chief challenges is ensuring timely maintenance and replacement. Despite seeking the best suppliers in the market, we have found that these systems are not fail-proof. Our clients are located in remote hamlets with little or no access to public transport; mobile phone networks are also not available in some of these places. So even communicating a problem takes time.
“Before we got these Solar lights, I had to walk 7-8 kilometres to the fair price shop to buy kerosene… and wait for hours – sometimes, in hot sun or in pouring rain- and after waiting for so long, there were times when the shop would close! Sometimes, I had to make 2 or 3 trips as there was no way of knowing whether the shop had kerosene in stock or not. But now the Solar lights have freed from these kerosene issues.” - Rohini Hande, Wankute, Ahmednagar District
Maalwadi Gaothan is a hamlet that is not on the electricity grid at all. All the houses in this hamlet use kerosene lamps for lighting up their homes. These dim lights, barely sufficient to light up even one small room in the house are certainly not enough to light up the outdoors. The path from the main village to this hamlet had no lights, which was inconvenient to say the least. Sundown meant Lights out. Literally.
A solar street light installed at the junction of the two main foot trails that pass through this hamlet, now lights up the trails after dark as well as reaches the verandahs of about six houses in the hamlet; much to the delight of the women and children especially.
They say that they feel much safer now going to or returning from the main village after dark. The women also find it convenient that they can now finish some household chores in the light just outside their homes. This has also become a gathering space for families to relax and chat late in the evenings.
Grid streetlights in cities are often superfluously on; much after sun is already at his job. These Solar Streetlights are efficient systems, with sensors- auto-on at sunset and auto-off at sunrise. But they do need proper maintenance. Regular cleaning of the panels, checking water level in the batteries, checking the battery connections for carbon accumulation etc is very important to ensure their long life. We found the people, especially the youth, very eager to participate and learn in the training program we conducted to facilitate this- a sure sign that the Solar Street light has been a success and people are ready to take ownership of it.
Now, they can’t wait to go further and bring Solar Home light systems to their hamlet too.
“Earlier we had to go out at night with candles or a torch, to wash vessels or tend to the animals. The soap bar or ash that we use to clean vessels got lost, left behind in the dark! Now with this solar light, the darkness is gone; we can see where we are going.” - Anita Aglave, Gunjalwaadi Pathaar, Ahmednagar District
Solar cooking – lunch at Gunjalwadi primary school
Under the mid-day meal scheme at Gunjalwadi Primary School, lunch for about 40 students works out to about 4 kg of rice along with dal, or vegetables as per the day’s menu. They use LPG gas, which has to be sourced from Sangamner, 15 km away. One cylinder lasts about a month.
Since mid-2011, after a Solar Parabolic cooker has been installed here, a rather classic case of balanced pros and cons emerges:
Pure Economics: Just according to plain conventional economics, (i.e keeping aside the real benefits of health, environment and sustainability factors, and only looking at money values) these cookers still do make sense.
1 LPG cylinder, at current market prices costs Rs.500 (Rs.800 – 900 without subsidies). And this is a recurring cost.
The solar parabolic cooker however, does not need any fuel, so it can pay for itself over time. It costs Rs.25,000. So a school can bring its fuel cost to zero in 30 months.
The cooker is expected to last for atleast 5 years. Assuming it can be used for about 8 months in a year, discounting for cloudy and rainy days, return of investment at current fuel costs is definitely within 5 years and with rising fuel costs, this repayment period will only reduce.
- Fuel saved – doesn’t need any fuel- LPG, kerosene or firewood
- Environment – reduced deforestation and habitat loss
- Drudgery reduction - no cutting and gathering firewood or sourcing and transporting LPG cylinders from far off places across poor roads
- Health benefits – no CO and other noxious fumes generated
- Clean energy – no ash and soot produced
- Reliability issues: The cooker’s efficiency is greatly reduced even on partially cloudy or windy days. So another fuel source has to be kept as a backup.
- Time constraints: It can be used only during the hot and sunny part of the day. Though this has worked out ideally for schools which make lunch under the mid-day meals scheme, it cannot be used early mornings or late evenings, when most people prefer to cook.
- Size and storage: Its large size can be a bit of a bother. It is also a little clumsy to move around.
- Costs: The initial costs are quite high
Some seemingly small things that can affect long term sustainability:
- Distance of the school from the house of the Anganwadi worker – If the Anganwadi worker’s house is far away, by the time she finishes her housework and comes to school, she doesn’t have a lot of time before a bunch of hungry kids arrives. In this situation, she may prefer cooking on gas. But at Gunjalwadi, the Anganwadi worker lives right next door to the school. She can start cooking on the parabolic much earlier, as soon as the sun is reasonably high in the sky and she can keep an eye on it while she finishes all her household chores. By the time her work day at school starts, lunch is almost ready.
- Some monetary incentive for the woman who cooks on the parabolic cooker, would encourage her to use and maintain it regularly
- Renting the cooker to the local community for festivals or other events, other organizations or schools from time to time could also become a supplementary income for the school and help in making up the cost of the cooker.
- The cooker is not a fire hazard but the reflectors can produce high temperatures that can lead to injury. Children especially need to be warned against this and also taught not to throw mud or stones at it, which can cause serious damage.
What is freaking the world out of its mind is the spectre of China’s and India’s poor developing. 70% of half of the world’s population is poised for growth – which means, that much energy demand, and that much carbon emissions. The pressure on the newly growing populations and countries, to switch to clean energy and adopt a low carbon path, has thus become tremendous. India, declaring a 9% growth, stands in the cross-hairs of global this global pressure.
No doubt India has held its stand – that it will not compromise its development to accommodate global issues – especially in the light of the fact that the high-consumption western countries don’t show many signs of changing their lifestyles in a hurry. India’s stand has been that it will continue its growth but will ensure that the per-capita consumption of energy will not go beyond current western per-capita consumption. Fair enough, one would say. This would perforce mean that if India has to maintain its growth curve, she has to find alternative means of energy.
Switching over to a low carbon path means more than switching over to clean energy. It means life-style changes, mindset changes, paradigm changes, investment changes. It means changes in geo-politics, class politics, stock-markets… As you can see, it is a major shift. Can we as a society make this quantum jump? And in the short window of time that is available? Seems unlikely. The only factor that will possibly push us is the fact that we will run out of oil soon… and sooner rather than later. The growing cost of producing oil, as always, will be passed on to the people.
Clean energy is but one component of this Monster change required. And even switching to clean energy doesn’t seem so simple. It would require huge amounts of technological shifts, infrastructure changes, policy changes and capacity building that can accommodate the setting up of production and distribution systems. The question then arises who is going to pay for all this? Whether the burden of this shift can be shifted to the high-consumption societies – their contribution to the global kitty?
Would this also mean that in the near future India will be seeing solar fields stretching to the horizon? Like the windmills? Would the rural poor see another spate of displacement? India has seen enough of displacement with her mega hydro, thermal and mining projects. A large scale, centralised production system will continue to have the devil of Displacement to deal with.
What then becomes attractive about Alternate energy is its ability to be produced where it is consumed. This eliminates high costs (financial as well as social costs) of distribution. And scaling this up also seems plausible without having the high socio-environmental costs that mega-projects contain.
Decentralisation of Energy immediately brings rural electrification to the mind. One pictures remote off-grid villages having alternate, off-grid solutions for their lighting and power needs, for their enterprises, businesses… the possibilities seem endless. And why only remote villages? At the urban level too it can be made mandatory of buildings larger than a given size or having energy consumption over X amount to produce their own electricity or at least part of it. Malls, theatres, offices, schools and colleges, factories, storage godowns, etc. could begin to produce their energy. And setting up these energy production units could be subsidized .
One of the key deterrents put across to alternate energy has been the cost factor. Renewable energy costs are always depicted as formidable, as compared to mainstream energy. But is that the truth? Take Solar Energy for instance. Solar energy costs are calculated along with the capital costs… but do we do that for mainstream energy? No, we don’t. These costs are highly subsidized. And if the environmental and social costs of mainstream energy are monetised also, Alternate Energy wins the cost-contest hands down!
At WOTR, we have begun moving, in a very small way, towards cleaner and greener options. Our Darewadi Training Centre is now almost off-grid and generates its own energy. Over 2500 hot water chullahs reduce household fuelwood consumption by over 60%. 3500 solar home lighting systems ensure that these individual households generate enough energy to light their own homes. 6000 biomass stoves and smokeless challahs have ensured a substantial reduction in air-pollution and bringing down health hazards… and this is only the beginning.
So, read on, dear readers… to know what has been done and how people feel about the various initiatives…. And yes, please do give your feedback. As we always say, it is invaluable.
A week before my trip to India, I opened a Word document and titled it “What do I know about India so far.” After two and a half sentences I called off the charade. I was reading books about the country, but really it was a total mystery to me. I knew nothing.
My first day in the country, I ventured out of my Bombay hotel for just a few minutes. I walked up the block and back, feeling totally overwhelmed and not a little peeved at all the taxi drivers who tried to insist on driving me places. I remember feeling a visceral shock at the fact that everyone on the street was actually Indian.
From that raw, vulnerable state, WOTR took me in like a warm, mentoring guardian. Tireless WOTR employee Jones picked me up from the train station, took me out for dinner and delivered me to the guest house. My mind was swirling, trying to process the noisy chaotic traffic, hungrily imagining all the adventures that obviously lay before me. How could this country not offer adventures? My rickshaw just cut off an elephant!
Everyone in the office gave me a warm welcome, and I soon became close friends with several of my colleagues. They showed me where I should live, where I should eat, how I should take rickshaws without getting ripped off.
But it was hard. After the first week I started asking myself why I had come here, why I’d made a five month commitment to a place about which I could only muster 50 words of knowledge and nary a mental image. Luckily my bosses are accustomed to having Westerners work here, and they gave me plenty of time to adjust. Within a few weeks I began to feel quite comfortable, and now, at the end of my five months, I feel even more so. (This may suggest I’ve matured to some extent, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!)
A famous man once said of his travels, “I remember more than I did and I did more than I remember.” What I’ll always remember about being here is all the time I spent in places tourists never see – in an office and in villages. I worked hard for a cause I truly believe in, and WOTR gave me access to places and people I never could have imagined.
In the villages, I got to talk to people whose lives were totally revolutionized by their work with WOTR. I got to hear from farmers who know even less about climatology than I do but can sense the climate changing. I got to sit in the homes of generous villagers and eat delicious, authentic Indian food. And when I came back to the office in Pune I wrote stories about these experiences. I edited and helped publish newsletters, spread awareness of our work through Facebook and our new blog, and applied for funding awards. I made friends with co-workers, trading lessons on writing for insights on culture.
Now my time here is ending, and my feelings are about as jumbled as they were when I first came here. I’ve seen people, things, ways of life that I never knew existed. I’ve seen that poverty doesn’t have to mean misery. And I’ve seen that, though we face countless social and environmental problems, we have the solutions to turn things around. Now let’s get to work!
- Sam Jewler