Renewable energy for self sufficiency

Decentralized renewable energy (DRE) in India is not only moving farmers towards self-sufficiency but also providing solutions that can solve major environmental issues from the ground level. Included in this article are a few inspiring cases of affordable and sustainable energy options in rural areas.

When we talk about Indian agriculture, a bleak picture comes to our mind – unpredictable weather, rising fertilizer costs, stagnant market prices, non-payment of dues, piling debt burden and eventually farmer suicides. While the great Indian farmer who provides all our essential foods constantly suffer from nature’s vagaries someone else in the farm supply chain rakes in profits. Why cant we break the vicious cycle of high debt and low earnings and paint a greener future scenario for our farmers?

Ginger is being dried using the Solar Induction Dryer

Fortunately, clean technology is lending a helping hand to break this vicious cycle and ensuring our farmers are self-reliant in their villages. Decentralized renewable energy (DRE) in India is not only moving farmers towards self-sufficiency but also providing solutions that can solve major environmental issues from the ground level.

The DRE concept makes energy affordable for beneficiaries and ensures sustainability for the years to come. Here are some case studies of a few innovative DRE companies that are enabling rural communities with appropriate clean technologies. These companies are members of a nationwide network named Clean Energy Access Network (CLEAN) to popularise and implement DRE.

Preserve food at farmgate

It is a well known fact the 20-30% of food produced perishes at the farmgate before it reaches the end-user. Despite various government schemes focused on food wastage, things have not improved due to serious lack of infrastructure and investment. Decentralised renewable energy can offer solutions for food preservation and refrigeration   during post-harvest, storage, transport and distribution.

S4S Technologies aims to convert  farm losses to Food-Ingredients through farm-gate sourcing and processing –all done by Women Entrepreneurs. S4S trains landless women and farmers, transforming them into Micro-Entrepreneurs by providing the right combination of – technology, finance, and the market. By mitigating food wastage and post harvest losses,  S4S Technologies have already benefitted more than 1000 farmers across 6 countries with their sustainable technology driven by solar power minimising harmful emissions as well as improving livelihoods and creating enterpreneurs.

S4S reached out to 29 rural women in Vadala–Vadali in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra, with their flagship product – a solar conduction dryer. Solar Conduction Dryer (SCD) is a solar-powered food dehydrator that reduces moisture content in agro-produce preserving produces up to 1 year without using any chemicals and preservatives. SCD is the first solar dryer that uses all the modes of heat transfer together (conduction, convection and radiation) giving one of the best drying efficiency of 22%.

The women were trained on safety and hygiene, time management, food safety protocol and other standard operating procedures for onion and ginger dehydration. After getting educated about the food dehydration process, these women realised that there are immense opportunities in becoming micro-entrepreneurs. Taking a leap of faith, all thirty women joined forces with S4S. The case of Dhurpadaa Shevare is described in Box 1.

Box 1: Case of Dhurpadaa Shevare

Forty-five-year-old Dhurpadaa Shevare always craved for a fulfilling life. Born into a poor family in the remote village of Vadala–Vadali in Jalgaon district of Maharashtra meant that she’d have to brave challenges right from her childhood. The last time Dhurpadaa ever went to her school was when she was in Class 2. She was unable to pay for her schooling which compelled her parents to take her out of school. A few years later, Dhurpadaa became a bride. An early marriage led to an early motherhood and she bore four children, two sons and two daughters. In their best days, she and her husband toiled hard in the farms to provide for their children. Combined, they could only make a meager INR 3,000 per month if they had a good season (4 months in a year). Their children grew up fast. Soon they were married and moved out to start their own families. At a relatively young age of 45, Dhurpadaa was already a grandmother to a 17-year old boy.  All these developments exhausted her physically and mentally. Just as her dream of a stable life was starting to drift away, she crossed paths with Science for Society (S4S). Gradually, as Dhrupadaa got a hang of things, she started drying a daily input of 45-90 kg of fresh raw material. This, in turn, led to an output of 10-12 kg dried ginger flakes per day. The training helped her to produce good quality output with improved potency for consumption. Most of all, it was financially rewarding. With her newly acquired skills, Dhrupadaa was now able to make INR 5,000 per month, something that had seemed beyond her reach her whole life. This opportunity gave Dhrupadaa and her husband renewed zeal to live an independent life together.

Biomass for clean cooking

Rural women struggle to get proper access to clean cooking fuel even today, despite decades of work done by voluntary NGOs and governmental agencies. Since biomass fuel resources are abundantly available across the country, there are a few cleantech startups and renewable energy enterprises that are working towards bringing self-sufficiency to remote rural regions through DRE.

A Bengaluru-based cleantech company named TIDE (Technology Informatics Design Endeavour) mainly implements projects related to biomass products and clean technologies in Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Assam by collaborating with partner organizations to ensure wider dissemination among marginalized tribal communities in forest fringe areas. TIDE leverages appropriate clean technology for conserving the environment as well as creating livelihoods, and addressing societal issues. WWF India (World Wide Fund), through its Western Ghats Nilgiris Landscape division, partnered with TIDE to promote the Sarala improved cook-stove in remote villages inside Sathyamangalam Tiger Reserve (STR) in Erode district, Tamil Nadu. This partnership helped convert dark and smoky kitchens among households in forest fringes into clean and smoke-free ones by training locals in stove construction. The unique aspect here is that the households contribute to the construction process, by which local employment is also created through the stove construction training.

R Sekar, a former census enumerator, is one such beneficiary of this program. He got himself certified as an improved cook-stove installer by Skill Council for Green Jobs and has constructed more than 120 stoves in the Nilgiris region. In 2019, he witnessed a sea change in his fortunes after getting trained by TIDE in Sarala improved stove construction. The 36-year-old father is now proud of his newly acquired skill and says, “I have been able to make monthly savings of INR 2,000, which I have invested in gold for my daughter’s higher education”. He has led the organization of clean cook stove building projects during the agricultural off-season when casual laborers don’t find work on farms.

Sekar also trained many other stove builders, helping them improve their income, effectively. Today, there are 15 such certified stove-builders in Erode district, trained by TIDE in improved low-cost cook-stove construction. After getting trained, these skilled stove builders have constructed Sarala stoves in many small hamlets located on the Tamilnadu-Karnataka border. A stove builder can make about INR 300-500 per day, if they build 3-5 stoves a day. The end beneficiary of these improved cook-stoves is also happy that their kitchens are finally smoke-free and are no longer spending their time foraging for firewood in the forest.

R J A Steffan Ajay, Senior Program Officer in WWF-India, WGNL says, “This skill training partnership between TIDE and WWF-India has effectively reduced the consumption of forest firewood in STR region. More than 1000-plus Sarala stoves have been built during the last three years in this sparsely-populated forest belt. The pilot project of 1,000 stoves has prevented more than 1,440 tons of forest firewood from being consumed annually in the kitchens of the STR belt. Further, there is a large potential to scale up this activity as we have mapped out about 9,000 potential beneficiaries of the Sarala stove for the future”. Going forward, TIDE would be training few more selected stove builders like Sekar in the STR region on the construction of institutional cook-stoves for dhabhas and hotels. This would not only increase their income but also create a business plan for DRE solutions such as commercial cook-stoves that have the potential to mitigate at least 2.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per unit installation.

Future augurs well for both the community and wildlife of the STR belt as TIDE ensures there is a sustainable DRE solution for cooking that can conserve the forest area and improve the lives of tribal communities.

Agro-waste to wealth

A vast majority of Indian farmers do not value the waste generated by their agricultural produce. Farmers tend to burn the crop residues of paddy, sugarcane and wheat after harvest, since removing the crop stubble and using it as fodder requires labor resources and time. This kind of burning not only wastes a valuable resource but also causes air pollution.

There are some innovative solutions to manage this kind of crop stubble burning. Various agricultural machines like Happy Seeder, Rotavator, Paddy Straw Chopper, manual briquetting machines have been developed so that farmers can manage crops and crop residue with ease. State governments provide subsidies on such crop machines so that farmers can afford these machines. The use of farming residues as biofuels for transportation or manufacturing can significantly reduce carbon emissions as well.

S K Engineers, Vapi-based company established in 2011 by a group of technocrats, has innovated a manual briquetting machine that can convert any agro-waste and prove to be a boon for rural India. During his company’s work with NM Sadguru Foundation, Darshil Panchal, Managing Partner of S K Engineers, worked closely among rural communities and observed the lack of a reliable source of cooking fuel. In search for a solution to this problem, Darshil came across boilers that used briquettes instead of coal.

Agricultural waste being generated in abundant quantities was procured from the rural communities by briquetting plant owners. They in turn make briquettes out of it and supply it to boiler plants. Understanding this, Darshil ideated on manufacturing a manual version of a briquetting machine to manage agricultural waste. Working closely with various NGOs and voluntary organizations, he came up with an appropriate solution for the effective management of various types of waste such as agro waste, fodder, kitchen waste, paper/plastic/cardboard waste, etc. Generally, plastic waste, multi-layered plastic packaging, paper waste, cardboard, farm waste etc., do not have much value since they are too bulky to transport easily. Understanding this problem, Darshil Panchal innovated a new type of manual baler machine that helps to effectively manage waste and transport them in an organized way.

Box 2: Briquette making process

All kinds of agro-waste material is first shredded into tiny pieces. This mixture is then blended together with little water and cow dung to create a slurry. Once the slurry is ready, it is poured into the cylindrical cavity of the BLP machine and the lever is pressed to start the compression process. Then the compressed slurry is removed and dried in the sun and the briquette is ready.

This Manual Baler Machine can be easily transported since it has the provision of wheels. It is easy to operate and highly economical as there is no maintenance required for it. These machines are unique since they need no electricity and very less manual power and are easily installable and operable. With the Briquetting machine, the agri waste is turned into briquettes. These briquettes can be directly used at home as an alternative fuel for cooking or can also sold in the market at a price of INR7-10 per kg to earn extra income.

Already numerous NGOs and rural development organizations have bought these machines and are utilizing them for waste management and income generation.

Levine Lawrence

Content Director

Ecoideaz Ventures

#24, 1st Cross, 2nd Stage, Gayathripuram,

 Udayagiri, Mysuru,

Karnataka – 570019, India.


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