Differently from ecovillages in Europe which are intentional communities, in India “Eco Village Development” is about changing existing traditional villages into ecovillages by implementing in, and teaching the community – especially women – climate solutions which are needs based, low carbon and affordable. India has 600,000 traditional villages all over the country. The following example is a model on 6 villages in Uttarakhand. Its aim is to showcase these to the Government and other NGOs, and civil society, so they can also replicate similar villages. The project is also trying to get the Government to make eco villages a policy through advocacy.
During the climate conference in Paris in 2015, representatives of GEN International met NGOs from India and shared deeply about possibilities to collaborate based on the idea of ecovillages as a concept for building climate resilient communities. Two grassroots organisations in India, INSEDA* and WAFD*, along with a Finnish NGO called Aar Social Development Association RY (ASDA RY) with support from the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have already worked on the Eco Village Design (EVD) Concept for many years. It is an integrated 360-degree approach to sustainable development that focuses on providing low-cost, pro-poor, low-carbon renewable energy solutions to rural communities while also focusing on capacity development activities and other co-benefits. By taking a deeply participative approach that focuses on women, they try to create a responsive, community led approach to energy access, sustainable livelihoods and climate adaptation and mitigation.
WAFD, together with its Technical partner INSEDA, has been working in promoting ecovillage development in a few villages in India in Rajasthan and Uttarakhand for almost 15 years now.
Ten years ago the effects of climate change had already seriously started to affect the lives of people, especially the women, in the sub Himalayan State of Uttarakhand in north India. All able-bodied men were migrating to the cities in search of jobs or joining the armed forces, as farming livelihoods were no longer feasible due to increasing vagaries of weather. Women were left in the villages and their burden of work increased. They took care of the subsistence farming, fetching water, fodder, looked after the animals, while also taking care of children and old people in the house.
In order to reduce the burden on women, and help them overcome the effects of climate change, INSEDA, with inputs from WAFD, designed simple user-friendly green technologies for the women. These are: solar dryers for domestic use to dry their extra produce in a clean and hygienic manner, roof rain-water harvesting tanks , solar poly-houses to grow vegetables and raise saplings, and special improved cook stoves which stop indoor smoke pollution as well as reduce outdoor pollution to at least 80%. Simple biogas plants are also introduced where possible, and simple compost making baskets.
These solutions are a mix of technologies, together with organic farming, and organic kitchen gardening, which help to improve livelihoods. In addition to this, the village communities are also given periodic trainings on using and maintaining these solutions as well as on other relevant livelihood skills.
Our focus on forming women’s groups helps develop a sense of solidarity among them and allows us to foster a sense of ownership amongst the community members towards these climate technologies and solutions. The self-help groups make access to small credit possible and dependency on external moneylenders is eliminated. The women help each other, have become aware of the environment around them, and take simple protective measures where possible.
One example: Sarita Bahuguna
Sarita Bahuguna has just finished her household work, both her children are at school,and she can now spare some time to talk. For one person, Sarita does a lot: she takes care of the house, the cooking, looks after her animals, and maintains, what has now become, a high-yielding
kitchen garden. Sarita says she joined WAFD in 2011 encouraged by the senior women of her village, Ranichauri. At that time, she wasn’t sure about many things. Her children were much younger, so she was doubtful if she would have time for WAFD or what she would be able to do. She is now in her thirties and it is an encouraging sign to see that even the younger women are showing interest in sustainable development.
Sarita is a quiet person and it would be easy to assume that she joined WAFD simply because most women she knew were doing the same. But that couldn’t be further away from the truth. In her own words, Sarita says that she joined WAFD to see “what I’ll gain from it or if I’ll gain anything at all”. The statement is a little surprising as most of the other women only spoke of potential benefits and she so far has been the only woman from the village of Ranichauri to voice any scepticism.
Sarita is a hard-working woman and has single-handedly turned things around for her household by adopting the various technologies she learnt from WAFD:
1) Organic compost basket. She learnt how to weave the bamboo basket when the women were given the training, and got one basket for herself. Like the others, she was also remunerated for the basket weaving. She then used the basket to make organic compost which was also taught to her by WAFD. Recently, her basket broke but that will not stop her from making organic compost: “I will dig a pit and use it to make the compost. If WAFD helps with the basket again, I will use it. I am willing to pay for the bamboo if it is affordable.”
2) Organic farming “Earlier I used to put dried dung in the fields and the kitchen garden for soil fertilization. Now I only use the organic compost. It is lighter and mixes well with the soil, ensuring that the crops will grow on arable land.” She is very happy with the results she has been getting each year- the produce has doubled in quantity, and the quality has improved. She is able to sell some of the surplus crops like cabbage, cauliflower, capsicum, brinjal, and rai (‘mustard’) from her kitchen garden and earn around Rs. 4500 annually. She also made about Rs. 3000 by selling soyabean and ‘tuvar’ that grew in her field last year.
3) Pickle-making training Sarita also attended an organised training for making pickles. Here she learnt how to make pickles and chutneys using different local vegetables and even fruits: mix vegetable pickle, green chilli pickle, ‘amla’ (Indian gooseberry) pickle, lime pickle, radish pickle, pumpkin chutney, and apple chutney. By making pickle herself, Sarita saved at least Rs. 500.
4) Self Help Group Sarita is the head of WAFD’s Ranichauri SHG since its formation. The SHG has 23 members and each month they have a meeting where each member deposits Rs. 50. The SHG has been meeting regularly since its formation in 2011 so one can easily guess at the group’s savings. The money is deposited in the bank so that it can earn interest, and has turned out to be a great blessing and the SHG a reliable financial support system. Any member can borrow the amount for their needs at an interest rate of 2%. They also allow non-members to borrow but at a higher rate of 3%. Sarita herself borrowed money to get a toilet built in her house.
Sarita Bahuguna is an industrious lady who has triumphed over her circumstances and become self-sufficient. She exemplifies how women can grow and develop themselves even in an ever-changing and challenging natural environment.
*WAFD stands for Women’s Action For Development, a registered non government organization working in the development sector since 1978. The focus of our work is women.
*INSEDA stands for Integrated Sustainable Energy and Ecological Development Association. They are also a registered non government organization working since 1995. Their focus is renewable energy and as our partner have specially designed simple green technologies for our joint projects projects of eco village development.
The two organisations are open to providing training to other GENOA groups on their model of eco villages. Just as an example they sent their Senior technician-cum-master-trainer to Uganda for 1 month, on the request of a group there, to teach and train their masons how to make bamboo reinforced bio gas plants. Their staff are satisfactorily making the plants independently now. They provided all funding for this training.