Friday, June 15, 2012

A Small Step Towards Sustainable Living - First Floating Dome FRP Biogas Unit built by Women Masons of Aurangabad

Marathwada is one of the most backward regions of India where the majority of the people live in villages. The rural folk are dependent on the sparsely irrigated small patches of lands for their livelihoods. To add to their woes, the rainfall pattern and the ground water is on the decreasing trend.

It is against this background that Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) has worked with the farmers (mainly women farmers) to identify alternative sources of rural livelihoods that lead to sustainable living. To supplement their meagre incomes from farms, they were trained on various skills that improves their livelihoods while also conserving the biodiversity and the environment. These skills include dairy, plant nursery development, production of biodynamic and organic manures, and water management. The organization also empowers and facilitates them to establish green enterprises - plant nurseries, vermicompost units, biodynamic manure production, and development of the "matka" fridge. The low cost "matka" fridge (costs only Rs 300 or 6 US$) is a fridge made of earthen pots that helps farmers preserve their vegetables for a much longer duration (increases the shelf life by 2-4 times). This improves livelihood opportunities for the village potters and the farmers are able to preserve their vegetable produce for home consumption and sale. The non-farm skills imparted include tailoring, domestic wiring, and masonry. The farmers trained on these skills started the related enterprises and thus improved their livelihoods.
With support from a German development organization, DESWOS ( ), many rural women from the district were trained on masonry skills. They now take construction contracts in the villages for their livelihoods - repair of school buildings, house constructions, etc. Being small farmers themselves, they are well aware of the challenges facing the rural communities and farmers in particular. They, along with members of IIRD and the development animators in the villages, wanted to find a way to use their masonry skills to bring better life in the villages. Farmers face a dire fuel and energy crisis - the electricity is unavailable for more than 8-12 hours a day, the kerosene is hard to get, and the collection of firewood is tedious besides aiding desertification. Firewood and dried cowdung are the main fuels in the villages particularly for cooking. Women spend a lot of time and efforts to collect the dung and firewood. Government agencies and some private farmers have experimented with biogas in the past but have not been very successful. IIRD staff and the development animators held several meetings to identify the causes for the failure of biogas units. The biogas units so far installed in the district is unsuitable to the soils (black cotton soil) and therefore some structural damages happen in due course of time. Besides, there is not much knowledge on the maintenance of the biogas units. The cost of the biogas unit itself is expensive for a small farmer. The challenge is to bring down the cost and make a biogas unit particularly suited to the soil and climatic conditions of the district. The IIRD staff and some development animators visited other biogas units in Maharashtra and in neighbouring districts of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat. The designs were discussed for their suitability and skills required. Based on several factors, it was agreed that the FRP Floating Dome model with a Ferrocement Digestor is the most appropriate model - needs less skills, quick to build, easy to maintain, withstands stresses, and produces more gas.

After a detailed study of the design and with technical support from experts, the first such FRP Floating Dome Biogas unit was built by the women masons - Ashabai and her technical team - Dwarakabi and Kantabai. All of them are trained masons earlier involved mostly in house construction. (the photo below shows the team at work)

Women masons installing the floating dome FRP Biogas unit
 Soon, the biogas will be produced (normally, 15 days after the installation) which will be sufficient fuel to cook food for a family of 5 members. This will save their time and efforts to collect other fuel (firewood and dried cowdung) besides giving out a cowdung slurry that will be an useful farm input as a fertilizer.

What remains now?
  •  Equip a workshop to build the FRP floating dome and the metal mould for the ferrocement digestor.
  • Build capacity of more women masons to install such biogas units
  • Establish a mixture of grants and soft credit to enable farmers to afford these biogas units
  • Raise awareness among communities for use of biogas for cooking and the slurry as an important organic fertilizer.
  • Organize exposure visits to similar family biogas units and also community based biogas units.

Presently, IIRD is looking for resources to carry forward the envisaged plans. IIRD believes in the philosophy of "small is beautiful" as introduced by British economist and Philosopher - E. F. Schumacher. The aim is to generate local livelihoods or rural workplaces that can improve their incomes and also sustain their environment. This project envisages employment opportunities for at least twenty women masons and 3 other skilled persons in fabrication FRP making while making about 100 units in the first 18 months.

- Joy Daniel, IIRD - , Aurangabad, Maharashtra, INDIA

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Season at Stake.

Wonderful video on the plight of small farmers in Maharashtra. By Vikrant Bachhav, Abhivyakti.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Too much money. Too much poverty.

Just change in ways of consumption by the world's privileged few will do a lot more good to the many who are not so privileged than all the aid money or government support. Everyone makes a choice at almost every moment of life. Whether it is bath with hot or cold water, wheat bread or millet for breakfast, plastic bottles or glass bottles, coke or lemonade or coconut water, travel by car or bike or public transport, pay for a movie or donate for a granny, eat in a luxury hotel or at a roadside stall, ....etc. What if every choice is made with the less privileged in mind. The world will surely be a better place.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

World Water Day - How many people know that, in 2002:

■ 1.1 billion people lacked access to improved water sources (tap water in the house or yard from public distribution systems, protected wells and springs, public stand posts,
rain water collection), which represented 17% of the global population.
■ 2.6 billion (42% of the world population) lacked access to basic sanitation.
■ Of the 1.1 billion without access to improved water sources, nearly two thirds live in Asia.
■ 1.8 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera); 90% are children under 5, mostly in developing countries.
■ 80% of the population without access to drinking-water were rural dwellers, but future population growth will be mainly urban.

Monday, March 22, 2010

World Water Day - March 22nd 2010

By 2030, one third of the global population, mainly concentrated in developing countries, will have only half the amount of naturally renewed water available they need.

 If this trend is expected as the general scenario in developing countries, it will be even worse in Marathwada :-(  It is time for consumers to change their lifestyle. For instance, by consuming the foods that require less water for cultivation and processing. Example - millets.

While the world is rightly moving to address the challenges presented by climate change and depleting supplies of fossil fuels, the same awareness and consensus does not exist when it comes to addressing our usage of water. ... Read more at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The World of Small Farmers.

  • 450 million small-scale farms worldwide
  • (IFAD, 2008 -- defined as farms of two hectares or less of land)
  • Support a population of roughly 2.2 billion people (Singh, 2009)
  • Represent roughly 85 percent of the world’s farms
  • ¾ of world’s poor are rural (smallholders, wage labour)
Excerpts from the presentation of Bill Vorley, IIED

    Sunday, January 24, 2010

    Her name is Dhanabai. The name literally means a woman of wealth. Perhaps, the wealth she has cannot be measured by money. She certainly has some unseen wealth and she has the smiles to show that she is indeed happy with the wealth. She stands outside her hut having just gathered the wheat grains that she had kept out for drying in the sun. Most of the grains are insect infested and rotten but she may be able to find some of the grains suitable enough to eat for the week.

    Cattle market in Solapur

    A busy cattle market in Solapur district of south Maharashtra in central India. Hope these indigenous cattle remain.

    Friday, January 1, 2010

    Copenhagen - everything but the small farmer.

    Quote from a friend's email about happenings in Copenhagen -

    Two weeks ago, huddled in a warm room of a community complex as temperatures hovered around -3 degrees Celsius in the freezing Copenhagen, were a group of animated people from Africa, Asia and Latin America with a sprinkling of Europeans. Everyone was discussing what should be the text of a defiant draft to be sent to the negotiators inside the Bella Centre, the official conference venue where the big and the powerful of the world had congregated for the Climate Summit. Suddenly one of the indigenous persons from India burst out with a long statement. I was stunned into inaction for a while. But as I regained my composure, I started fighting back my tears and started clapping. The entire room burst into applause even though it had not understood what she had said in her native Madhya Pradeshi Hindi. I realized that I had to translate this and started doing so in a choked voice: Tell them that WE are making no demands. No demands at all. If THEY want to retrieve life on this plant, let THEM make a demand on us. Because only we have the Power to Help Life Survive On This Earth. This is what she had said.

    Sunday, December 20, 2009

    Native bulls matter in India.

    Bulls hoeing the farm

    Bulls decorated for Pola festival

    Pooja at the Pola festival

    Bulls at the race

    Life in an Indian village will be boring to say the least if not for the native bulls. Bulls are traditionally used for manure, farm cultivation, and bull races. They play a significant part in festivals too.


    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Small organic farms Vs Large industrial farms.

    Industrial type agriculture concentrates on one target crop for ease of operation using heavy machinery in land preparation and harvesting. The present form of agriculture based on energy-intensive inputs is no longer deemed viable. This could be seen from the evidence of massive agricultural subsidies given to farmers not only in the developing countries but more so in the developed countries. The solution to the agricultural sector is to combine production, consumption and disposal of waste into smaller units based on multiple crops so that large scale processing and transport is avoided. Further, this will cut down the off-farm energy requirements and labour-intensive small farms will hugely contribute to poverty reduction.  This will create opportunities to supplement soil fertility by integrating waste and by-product management into farming activity. Since organic systems receive no chemical inputs for fertility, weed or pest control, the yields would be lower in the organic systems during the first few years. However, in subsequent years, organic systems will actually outperform conventional systems. Small farms are no less technically efficient than large farms and increasing their productivity will have a major impact on production. Read more at Low Carbon Industry and Agriculture - Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka.

    Wednesday, October 28, 2009

    "Poor Story" has some relevance to farmers in Marathwada too.

    Quote from "Poor Story" by Giles Bolton -

    Are you European? You're paying to subsidise every cow in the European Union at Euro 2.50 a day (while 300 million Africans live on less than Euro 1 a day). Are you American? In 2005 you spent US$ 4.2 billion subsidising the US cotton industry, which may be more money than the entire value of the cotton it produced (while 10 million African cotton farmers would have seen fewer of their children die from preventable diseases if your taxes hadn't been spent on a few thousand farms in the Midwest). Are you Japanese? You recently spent more than 1 percent of your annual income - at least 600 US$ per household - on rice through a combination of high prices and farmer support (while farmers in countries like Ghana couldn't even sell their produce in local markets, let alone abroad, because of subsidised exports from rich 'competitors'). Something is wrong here.

    Thursday, October 22, 2009

    Findings of the Organic Bazaar Impact in Aurangabad

    A Japanese team from Kobe University, Japan, independently evaluated the Organic Bazaar in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra. The survey was done over a period of 3 months. The team consisted of two senior professors and one senior researcher. This expert team conducted an independent, unbiased, and detailed assessment. Now, here are the findings that I am excited to share with you -

    Findings –
    i) For the grain, farmers get 53% higher price in the organic bazaar and the organic link than to conventional markets.

    ii) For the leafy vegetables farmers get 118% and the other vegetables 87% higher market price than conventional market .

    ... and 40% of farmers own less that 2.5 acres of land (considered really small)

    Monday, October 12, 2009

    Model Appropriate Houses for Small Farmers.

    Towards building a model low-cost house in 100,000 INR (US$2300). Two rooms + Kitchen + Toilet/bath, appropriate for the hot weather in central India. Many say it is impossible but some say "Yes, we can." Any comments/ suggestions welcome. Visit Housing Programme in Marathwada

    Thursday, October 8, 2009

    Endosulfan - a Deadly Chemical

    Environmental Justice Foundation EJF: Endosulfan - a Deadly Chemical

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