Barefoot Solar Engineers Join Farmers and ‘Rediscover’ the Benefits of Biodiversity
|Leela Devi, Monica|
By Bharat Dogra*
At a time of growing concern about climate change, the contributions of several women, farmers and innovators have given hope for more in mitigation and adaptation work in Indian villages.
When Leela Devi got married in the village of Tilonia (district of Ajmer in Rajasthan), she had not heard of solar energy. But taking advantage of the existence of the Barefoot College (BC) solar center near her new home, she learned the right skills within a year to install rural solar units and assemble solar lanterns.
Later, when the Indian Ministry of External Affairs partnered with British Columbia to launch an international program to train women in rural solar energy systems, Leela joined other friends in British Columbia. British to form a team of trainers. A training program has been designed to train women as barefoot solar engineers.
When I visited the Tilonia campus (before the training program was temporarily halted due to COVID), a group of women (including several grandmothers) from Zambia, Chad, Kenya and other countries were in training. 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 these minor hurdles.” She laughs, joined by Leela. “I can’t wait to go back to my village to start a solar unit here,” she said. Nearly 3,000 ‘solar mamas’ or barefoot female solar engineers from India and abroad have been trained here and the solar units they have installed are operational in remote villages in many countries.
Mangal Singh is a farmer from Bhailoni Lodh village (Lalitpur district in Uttar Pradesh). He invented a Mangal Turbine (MT) device that uses the energy of running water to lift water from streams and canals, replacing the diesel oil typically used for this purpose. Estimates reveal that a single unit can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 335 tonnes over its 15-year lifespan. This increases significantly if, with some adjustments, the TM is used for additional work like crop processing.
Potentially, TM can spread rapidly not only in India but across the globe wherever suitable conditions exist. Grateful farmers from his village gathered to express their thanks when I visited this village to see a demonstration of TM. Mangal Singh, who holds a patent, told this writer, “I basically want my invention to benefit farmers and the environment.” After TM was widely praised by several experts and high-level officials, the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India established the Maithani Committee to review this invention. This committee, after considering all aspects, praised the invention for its great utility and recommended its rapid dissemination, which the government has yet to achieve.
As Mangal Singh is now over seventy years old and his health has also suffered from neglect and victimization, no time should be wasted in implementing the recommendations of the Maithani Committee and adequately utilizing the rich potential of his work under his direction. As a first step, at least 100 Mangal turbines should be put in place immediately under his direction so that a number of talented young technicians will be suitably trained by him to carry on the work on their own.
The Gorakhpur Environment Action Group (GEAG), a leading NGO, coordinates the work of spreading environmentally friendly agriculture in hundreds of densely populated villages in the eastern part of the vast province of Uttar Pradesh.
He says the women farmers in particular have been very responsive. Prabhavati, one such farmer I met in Dudhai village, grew nearly 50 organic crops in her small farm and garden, combining grains, vegetables, fruits, spices, flowers, herbs and bamboo, with a barn and a composting unit on his farm. . She explained that rotations and mixed crops are decided in such a way that one crop tends to support the other.
Many farmers are rediscovering the benefits of biodiversity and protecting diverse varieties of diverse crops. Vijay Jardhari coordinated a Save the Seeds effort in Himalayan villages in the state of Uttarakhand. “By saving our mixed farming system from ‘barahanaja’ (a mixed training system in which around 12 millets, pulses, spices and oilseeds can grow together even on less fertile land), we are not only protecting our nutritional base, we are let’s also prepare for the difficult times of climate change.
Such efforts need to be encouraged and promoted on a much larger scale. The international climate fund, if used very carefully, can make a big contribution.
* Honorary Organizer, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include ‘A Day in 2071’, ‘Man Over Machine’, ‘Protecting Earth for Children’ and ‘Planet in Peril’. This article is based on the author’s visit to the villages mentioned in the story