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GMR Varalakshmi Foundation (GMRVF), is the Corporate Social Responsibility arm of the GMR Group. It’s objectives are to develop social infrastructure and enhance the quality of life of communities around the locations that has the Group’s presence. This non-profit (Section 25) company has its own professional staff selected from top academic and social work institutions, is governed by a Board chaired by Group Chairman, GMR Group.
Soon after assuming office, Kerala (southern state of India) Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan kicked up a storm by publicly supporting the Athirappilly hydro electric project, which environmentalists said, if implemented, would create ecologic imbalance in the area and destroy the Athirappilly waterfalls, the largest natural waterfalls in the state.
It is not that the government is oblivious to the impact that the project could make, but it says it has no option but to leverage existing means to check the growing power crisis in Kerala, which partially depends on the private sector for electricity.
Things are no different in other states either. While Kerala has attained almost 100 per cent electrical coverage, many parts of India still remain in the dark. For a large portion of the Indian population, electricity to this day remains a distant dream.
Enter two siblings who want to make India’s energy crisis a thing of the past. The duo has developed a new solution they say will not even slightly impact the ecological balance.
Avant Garde Innovations, the startup founded by siblings Arun and Anoop George from Kerala, has come up with a low-cost wind turbine that can generate enough electricity to power an entire house for a lifetime. The size of a ceiling fan, this wind turbine can generate 5 kWh/kW per day — with just a one-time cost of US$750.
“Our goal is to eliminate energy poverty, reduce dependence on struggling state power grids and create energy self sufficiency for all the needy ones through distributed, localised and affordable renewable energy. In doing so, we believe we can collectively usher in our world a cleaner environment, new economic prosperity and social change,” reads the company ‘What We Do’ statement.
“Our first offering is a highly affordable small wind turbine suitable for residential, commercial, agricultural, village electrification and other uses, which is aimed for a market launch during 2016.”
Incorporated in 2015, Avant Garde claims to be a startup with a ‘green’ heart and soul.
For the startup, opportunity is massive. India is the world’s sixth largest energy consumer, accounting for 3.4 per cent of global energy consumption. Federal governments in India, and the central government for that matter, are unable to bear the huge infrastructural cost required to bring electricity to remote villages.
Erecting electric posts and electric lines require huge investments that could cost millions of dollars.
This is where Avant Garde comes into picture. “When small wind turbine generating 1kW energy costs INR 3-7 lakh (US$4,000-10,000), our company plans to sell it at less than NR 50,000 (about US$750). Costs will decrease further through mass production,” Arun said in an interview to The Times of India.
The company launched its pilot project at a church in the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram in January this year. The small wind turbine prototype that it has developed is highly scalable for power capacities of 300 kW or even higher, Arun told e27.
“Our passionate aim is to introduce innovative, affordable and sustainable solutions that take renewable energy self sufficiency and energy empowerment to the next level through a distributed and decentralised approach using pioneering strategies the world has not witnessed yet,” the company says.
This revolutionary product has also won them a spot in the Top 20 Cleantech Innovations in India. The company has also made it to the list of 10 clean energy companies from India for the “UN Sustainable Energy For All” initiative under the one billion dollar clean energy investment opportunity directory.
According to the Global Wind Energy Council, the country ranks 4th in terms of global installed wind power capacity, after China, the US, and Germany.
Maybe, if Avant Garde Innovations takes off, Kerala can keep the Athirappilly waterfalls untouched.
Courtesy : Feritta Artiste Feritta
This Experiment Using a Glass Cover and the Sun Can Generate Water Even in Drought Affected Areas!
April 7, 2016
In a semi-arid region of Satara district in Maharashtra, there is a plot of lush green land with about 20 fully-grown, beautiful trees – all of which were the part of a very efficient experiment. The seedlings for these trees were fed with water obtained from dry soil, with the help of solar energy.
“I did my PhD in America way back in the late 1970s. And most of my work was around solar distillation of water. I looked at everything that could possibly be done with solar energy at that time and found that if you dig a small hole in the desert, and cover it with plastic, solar energy heats the soil and you can collect a cup of water every day. This was something that remained at the back of my mind for years,” says Dr. Anil Rajvanshi, Director of Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) – a non-profit research and development institute based in Phaltan, Maharashtra.
In 1981, Dr. Rajvanshi returned to India with the aim of using his education to work for the development of rural India, and started establishing the energy and sustainable development work at NARI.
Dr. Anil Rajvanshi
“I came to this very dry and partially semi-arid region. Sometime in the 1980s, the Government of India conducted a very large-scale tree plantation program. But of the many seeds that were planted, only a few resulted in fully-grown trees. Most of the seeds perished,” he remembers.
A reservoir of hope for poverty alleviation that also addresses problems such as crop failure
A social entrepreneur and innovator based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, Biplab Ketan Paul, has devised an innovative and path-breaking water-harvesting community initiative led by women. He has facilitated more than 14,000 farmers and transformed 40,000 acres of barren, disaster-affected or highly saline land into productive farms.
“Water is powerful, you cannot control water,” says Biplab, 46, who has successfully harnessed the precious natural commodity through an innovative process named ‘Bhungroo,’ which uses pipes to filter and store rain water in underground reservoirs with capacities to hold as much as 40 million litres of water in it.
Biplab’s innovative process to harness rainwater with the help of women’s groups has transformed the lives of farmers in arid rural Gujarat
A single Bhungroo – the Gujarati word for a hollow pipe –unit harvests water for only about 10 days a year, but supplies water for as long as seven months and ensures food security for five families by irrigating two crops in two seasons for at least 25 years. Besides, this non-saline rainwater reduces the salinity of groundwater, making it fit for agricultural use.
Water has been the leitmotif of Biplab’s life, right from his formative years in Hooghly, then an idyllic town on the banks of river Ganges, 62 km from Kolkata.
Both his parents earned modest incomes, and the greatest gift they gave Biplab and his two equally intelligent sisters was the love of books and empathy for others.
After his graduation and postgraduation in Economics from Jadavpur University, while studying at the Centre for Environment Education, Ahmedabad, and working in the Aga Khan Development Network, he was hit by ground realities of farming in arid rural Gujarat.
Lok Vikas, an NGO, had invited Biplab to provide technical knowhow for addressing the drinking water problem at Mehsana district of Gujarat. In 2001 while conducting a biodiversity analysis in villages there, he learnt about the far-reaching effects of water scarcity and contamination.
In Mehsana there was a peculiar situation: farmers were not allowed to draw underground water, yet a water park with 1.5 lakh borewells depleted ground water, pushing the level from 200 feet to 1,200 feet in just ten years. “The small farmers could not survive in this scenario,” recalls Biplab.
In 2004 Biplab was invited by the Bureau of Educational & Cultural Affairs of the US Government as part of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). In Miami, Biplab learnt how the city secured fresh water for residents in its salinity- affected regions.
Each Bhungroo unit is owned and managed by a group of five women belonging to small and marginal farmer families
This was the genesis of Bhungroo. “I learnt things that I applied in a constructive way,” says Biplab.
In 2007, Biplab conceptualized the social enterprise Naireeta Services Private Limited, with his wife Trupti Jain as founder-manager, and himself as innovator and director, looking after the technology aspects.
Naireeta promotes a social business model that ensures women empowerment, as each Bhungroo unit has to be owned and managed by women from small and marginal farmer families. Now there are seven in the team, along with 17 women farmer volunteers and eight members on an on-call basis.
The Women Self Help Groups of a village identify the below-poverty- line women members of a village with the help of Biplab’s team.
A group of five then agrees to their roles in the group and the costs of maintenance. One of them gives a part of her land for construction of the Bhungroo while the other members contribute labour, bringing an added sense of teamwork.
Biplab with a group of women managers of a Bhungroo unit
The first Bhungroo units were installed in five villages in Patan district of Gujarat in 2002 in nine months at nearly Rs. seven lakhs each.
The current Bhungroo units come in 17 designs and their prices range from Rs. four to 22 lakhs, based upon 29 variables such as rainfall and subsoil. Installation of the unit takes a mere three days.
A one-time investment of Rs. 8 to 9 lakh in Bhungroo can generate an income of Rs. 3 lakh per annum and the investor breaks even after 36 months. It increases a farmer’s agricultural income illustratively from Rs 11,000 a year to a minimum of Rs 34,000 in three months.
Each Bhungroo unit caters to the irrigation need of 15 acres of land, making that much land productive twice a year.
With several awards and honours such as the Ashoka Globaliser Award for Innovation in 2012 and 2014, Biplab has received grants, awards and accreditations from organizations such as the World Bank, the Commonwealth, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Asian Development Bank.
Biplab has implemented the Bhungroo technology in several African, EU and Asian countries
Bhungroo technology has been replicated widely in Gujarat, Karnataka, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Odisha. Internationally, Bhungroo has crossed over to Africa (Ghana, Liberia, Kenya), EU countries, Bangladesh, Cambodia and Vietnam.
Biplab has made Bhungroo not only a reservoir of water, but a reservoir of hope for poverty alleviation and women empowerment, besides addressing seminal problems such as crop failure.
By Kavita Kanan Chandra
07 Apr 2016
India Innovates Episode 4 – Edible Cutlery
Eat with it and then Eat it!
This edible cutlery is a perfect alternative to harmful cutlery, it is not only environmentally safe but also enriched with nutritious ingredients.
Click here to see the Video
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Marico Innovation Foundation Black Ticket Films
This motorbike can travel over 300 miles on just 1 liter of water
A farmer walks into the Organic Mandya store and puts a big bag of tomatoes and chillies on the table. The cashier weights it to be approximately 4.5 kg and 1.25 kg respectively and hands him a few crisp notes. The farmer pockets the money and walks away. The entire process took no less than six minutes. There were no delays, negotiations, middlemen or disappointments.
But Mandya wasn’t like this a year ago. In July 2015, more than 20 sugarcane farmers committed suicide. Perennially irrigated and verdant, Mandya is just about 100 km from Bengaluru. But the farmers are under the weight of heavy debt. Reports estimate that Mandya farmers owe banks Rs 1,200 crore in loans taken over the past year (2014-15). Government apathy, falling crop prices, excess stock and lack of guidance on proper farming techniques are the many reasons contributing to the grim scenario.
Disturbed by these prevailing conditions was 37-year-old MadhuChandan Chikkadevaiah, an IT professional living the life of dreams in California, but having roots in Mandya. Hailing from a family of farmers, Madhu was born in Mandya and spent his entire childhood in the sprawling 300 acres of University of Agriculture, Bengaluru, where his father retired as a Vice Chancellor. While Madhu went on to become a software engineer who worked across the globe, co-founded Verifaya Corporation that delivers automated software testing solutions to companies, he was always a farmer at heart.
In the entire world, the farmer is the only person who sells at wholesale but buys at a retail price.
He further explains,
Farmers are leaving their lands and migrating to cities in search of menial jobs. Lack of stability forces them to hop from one job to the other denying continued economic benefits. They are unable to take care of themselves and their families; eventually getting in to heavy debts and suicide. It’s a vicious cycle, albeit one which can be prevented. That’s what Organic Mandya set out to do – give farmers a prosperous, healthy life so that no one leaves the profession.
The seeds of Organic Mandya
When Madhu moved to Mandya, the first thing he noticed was a scattered landscape. There were many farmers who had shifted to organic methods, and practising indigenous techniques that were giving them decent yields. Yet, there were glaring gaps – lack of an organised market and information exchange.
Madhu’s first step was to gather passionate individuals (friends and ex-colleagues) who pooled in Rs 1 crore and he registered Mandya Organic Farmers Cooperative Society, bringing together nearly 240 farmers in the first phase. It took him eight months to complete all the government formalities and also establish Organic Mandya – the brand under which farmers will sell their produce.
We dabbled with many ideas – starting a chain of organic shops in Bengaluru, or an e-commerce website, tying up with restaurants and selling the produce. But none would allow farmers to directly interface with the customers. And to me, that was a priority. Until a customer realises the value of efforts the farmer puts in and a farmer understands customer priorities, farming will never be in vogue.
Madhu decided to leverage the Mandya Highway that connects Bengaluru and Mysuru, and he was convinced that travellers would stop by to buy his produce. To further enthuse people, he started an organic restaurant next to the shop. He says,
My strategy was that travellers will stop to have food and end up walking into the shop to buy their weekly groceries. But after a month or so, the trend reversed. People would first stop at our shop and that was fulfilling.
Incorporating the right practices
The real beauty of Organic Mandya is Madhu’s idea of connecting the farmers and customers. According to him,
On one hand, customers are hesitant to switch to organic given the costs, and on the other, a 24-year-old farmer dies of cancer caused by excessive chemicals his body was exposed to. It becomes imperative to educate people on the benefits of going organic and that cannot happen unless a common platform is created.
That’s how the company’s ‘Organic Tourism’ initiative took birth which has the following –
- Sweat Donation Campaign – A first-of-its-kind volunteering initiative that doesn’t ask for monetary contribution but sweat, Madhu says, “More than 20 percent of farmers’ yield is lost because of lack of timely labour.” In this initiative, people who enjoy farming or would want to experience it drive down over the weekend and work on Organic Mandya’s farms for the entire day. Citing an example, Madhu says, “A farmer (nearly 60-years old) was unable to spend Rs 3,000 for a day’s labour. But he needed to transplant his entire field. We put out a request on our Facebook page and had around 24 volunteers who completed the work in half a day.” In the last few months, the Sweat Donation Campaign has attracted over 1,000 volunteers from Bengaluru– right from college students to IT professionals and retired couples.
- Farm Share – Another unique initiative, Farm Share allows people to rent out farms of half to two acres for three months at approximately Rs 35,000 and grow their own food. The package allows families to stay on the farms for eight to nine nights over the three months and practice farming. In their absence, an Organic Mandya farmer will take care of the entire land. Once the yield is ready, families have the option to either sell the produce to Organic Mandya or use it for personal consumption. This ensures that farmers have continuous income as well as urban population is exposed to the joy of organic farming.
- Team @ Farm – This initiative encourages companies to bring in their employees for day-long farming activities, rural sports such as kabaddi, gilli dandalu and lagori, as well as farm tours such as the jaggery plant tour, which gives people a chance to understand the entire process. This is at a nominal cost of Rs 1,300 per day.
Reaping the benefits
It’s just been around six months since Organic Mandya has been fully operational and its well on its way to success. The cooperative has already over 500 registered farmers who collectively own close to 200 acres of land and are producing over 70 varieties for sale – rice, dals and pulses, edible oils, personal healthcare products, beverages, masalas and spices. In terms of revenue, the company reached Rs one crore in just four months. The monthly baskets priced at Rs 999, Rs 1,499 and Rs 1,999 have found many takers. “After all, who doesn’t want healthy supplies that will last an entire month that can be ordered online and delivered right at your doorstep,” asks Madhu.
But most importantly, Mandya is seeing reverse migration. Madhu says,
My biggest success is when someone returns from the city to start farming again. And so far, around 57 have returned to their land. This is only the beginning of a rural, organic revolution.
Road to a sustainable future
Madhu is well aware that sustainability is an important aspect for any business to flourish. But he wants to ensure that sustainability benefits both – farmers and customers. In the next one year, Madhu is working towards cultivating 10,000 families to generate revenues of approximately Rs 30 crore by making them buy monthly supplies averaging to approximately Rs 2,000 to 3,000.
He says, “The idea is to get families to register as our members, which will cost Rs 1,000 annually. This will have dual benefits – one is they will get a steep discount on all our products for the entire year, and second is we will introduce them to a range of healthy eating practices.”
Madhu’s boldest vision is to make the entire Mandya district go organic by 2020.