Posts

Self-sufficient Energy Production in OdanthuraiOdanthurai, a small village in Tamil Nadu, India, is the first in its region to incorporate wind, solar and biogas energy into its community. India is running out of the resources normally used to receive electricity. Since imports are expensive, using solar energy will boost the economy in the long term. Using solar energy will also help many villages, such as Odanthurai, to gain access to clean electricity. Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai will help many villagers gain access to clean electricity and, as a result, alleviate poverty.

Why Odanthurai Converted to Self Sufficiency Energy

When farmer Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam was elected council president of Odanthurai, he became invested in the development of the community and village as a whole. Shanmugam fought for access to cleaner water, as well as better sanitation and roads. He then began realizing that implementing these additions, such as the installations of street lights, drinking water plants and filtering points, was increasing the village’s electricity bills. In an India Climate Dialogue interview, Shanmugam admitted that “the electricity bill was only INR 2,000 (USD $30) when I joined, and it increased to INR 150,000 (USD $2,220) in just two years.”

Shanmugam realized that change was necessary in order to sustain Odanthurai without causing extensive electricity bills. In the long run, clean energy would allow for a reduction in power bills. Electricity bills were making up 60% of the council’s expenses. This was a hindrance that prevented them from implementing any other developmental changes. Shanmugam began looking into alternative means of energy.

Implementing Clean Energy in Odanthurai

The first change Shanmugam made in Odanthurai was to replace the electricity-run water pump with a biomass gasifier. The resulting cost showed a reduction from the previous cost by almost 70%. This was a significant cutback from the state of the village’s electricity beforehand. Additionally, Shanmugam established two solar lights in Odanthurai. This was a step toward renewable energy that saved the village a total of 5000 INR.

The success of biogas and solar energy bolstered interest in exploring alternatives for electricity. Eventually, the council bought a windmill. The resulting energy that the windmill created was enough to sell to the state as well as pay off the local villages’ bank loans. Shanmugam’s statement on the self-sufficient energy production that he helped to effectuate was simply, “[The village councils] in India should take steps to address development on their own. If this can be done in Odanthurai, it can be done anywhere in India.”

Clean Energy’s Role in Poverty Reduction

While clean energy such as biogas, solar and wind energy is important for the environment, it also has a strong link to poverty reduction. The cost of installing electricity in the village was infringing on their budget for developmental changes. Using clean energy, which reduces power bills, can help alleviate poverty by allowing impoverished communities to focus on other necessary improvements such as hygiene and education.

According to a 2015 report by Synapse Energy, harnessing renewable energy allowed the state of California to save more than $15 million in the first six months. This can be similarly applied to other regions in the world, as the long-term costs are proven to significantly decline over time. As a result, villages can focus on areas that need further development without spending a majority of their budget on electricity bills.

Organizations Providing Assistance

While Shanmugam and the village council were able to implement self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai, other activists and organizations are also taking action toward advocating for clean energy. Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) is a non-governmental organization that provides solar energy to underprivileged regions around the world. SELF points out that 14% of the global population lacks energy access, which is a whopping 0.9 billion people. Since 1996, SELF has conducted its projects in about 25 countries around the world. Some of their notable projects include providing excess energy from solar vaccine refrigerators to power medical equipment. It also has been improving online learning in South America and powering telemedicine in the Amazon rainforest.

Self-sufficient energy production in Odanthurai acts as a powerful example to the rest of the world. Clean energy has the power to change the world and alleviate poverty. It is time for other communities and countries to look toward self-sufficient energy options and see how they can improve the lives of their people.

– Esha Kelkar
Photo: Unsplash

Female leaders in India
In 2020, Priya Periyasmy became the leader of her village council in Tamil Nadu, a South Indian state that 68 million people populated. Despite gender quota laws in village council elections, female leaders in India are the vast minority and women must fight to do their jobs in a hostile work environment. Additionally, women who run for office often face sexual harassment and slanderous attacks. Following Periyasmy’s brave example, 15 female village council leaders in Tamil Nadu state have filed complaints about discrimination in the past six months.

Village Councilwomen Fight Discrimination

Periyasmy tolerated daily annoyances, with other council members not greeting her and asking her to sit on the floor during meetings. She initially ignored the discrimination, but the abuse she faced interfered with her ability to work. The panchayat vice-president regularly threatened her and once attacked her for sitting on a chair at work. Periyasmy went on strike and organized a sit-in protest with her husband. She and 15 other Dalit women in the same situation are demanding action under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Dalit female leaders in India face heightened discrimination. They belong to the lowest caste in India’s social hierarchy.

In another village in Tamil Nadu called Attupakan, V. Sasikumar quit his factory job to support his mother when she became the first female Dalit village council president. After other members stopped her from talking at meetings and hoisting the flag on Independence Day, she asked the Madras High Court to protect her family.

Sasikumar points out the daily wage earner status of his parents. After the struggle of getting into a leading position, his mother now faces discrimination. Other council members would not allow her to do her job. Still, she has the full support of her family.

India reserves half of each state’s village council posts for women, resulting in the election of 1 million female village councilors. However, proposals for similar legislation for state and federal elections exist for 20 years already. The bills did not pass yet. The bipartisan Girls LEAD Act challenges this, increasing global female participation in democracy, human rights and governance.

Girls LEAD Act

About 132 million girls between 6-17 years old are not enrolled in school and only 24% of all national parliamentarians are women, which are two highly connected problems. Women largely have underrepresentation in politics, allowing men to sway important decisions, many of which only women. Through U.S. foreign assistance initiatives, the Girls LEAD Act identifies and addresses barriers to female political participation, providing support for civil society organizations that women lead. The act ensures that each foreign organization engages girls under 18, introducing them to political leadership early.

Promoting girls’ education and political engagement will reduce violence against women and transform more societies into democracies. Women’s leadership supports democracy through cooperation between parties and the understanding of citizens’ needs. According to research, female inclusion in peace negotiations decreases corruption. Additionally, the likelihood of childhood marriage will decrease by 5% for each year of a girl’s continued secondary schooling.

Normalizing women’s leadership in politics will break the stigma and negative cultural attitudes behind it, which is the root of the bigotry that Periyasmy faces. Passing the Girls LEAD Act would protect marginalized politicians, including the 16 female leaders in India who actively fight discrimination.

– Rebecca Pomerantz
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Among Workers in the Cashew IndustryWithin the past few decades, diet culture has no doubt become a fad in the United States. From weight loss pills and body slimmers to obsessive calorie counting, diet fads are everywhere. For many, dieting means consuming foods that are high in protein and low in cholesterol and saturated fats. A popular type of food that fits this category is cashews. Convenient when it comes to on-the-go snacks, these moon-shaped nuts are full of protein and healthy monounsaturated fats that make them an ideal snack for dieters.

The top importer of cashews for the past decade, the U.S. imported over 147,000 tons of cashews in 2016, a 32 percent increase from the past four years. Of these imports, 92 percent came from Brazil, India and Vietnam. While the high demand for cashews makes them easily accessible to first-world consumers, these tasty treats come with a price: the poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Problem: Hazardous & Unethical Working Conditions

Tamil Nadu, a state in India, is home to a vast amount of cashew farms. Around 500,000 Indian citizens work on these farms, the majority of whom are women, some as young as 13. Because these employees are hired without contracts, their employers have no obligation to provide steady incomes, pensions or holiday pay. On top of that, cashew harvesting is physically dangerous.

When harvesting cashews, one must break through two layers of shells to get to the nut. In between those two layers of shells are two chemicals, known as cardol and anacardic acid. Upon coming into contact with the skin, these chemicals leave painful burns. While a simple pair of gloves could protect the hands and flesh of cashew harvesters, employers refuse to permit or provide gloves because they slow down the harvesting process.

The average cashew harvester in India earns around 160 rupees per 10-hour day. This equates to $1.90 per 10-hour day. This amount is not just below the poverty line but below the extreme poverty line. In 2015, around 70,000 cashew harvesters in India went on strike, demanding an increase of 70 cents per day. However, with or without this raise, this wage remains below the poverty line.

Multiple supermarkets that import cashews from Tamil Nadu have voluntarily signed up to be members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). However, they have not taken action to prevent the unethical conditions of the cashew plantations contributing to the overall poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Solution: Combating Unethicality

In 2013, upon acknowledging the poverty among workers in the cashew industry, a company in India called Acceso Cashew Enterprise Private Limited (ACE) was formed. Partnering with U.S. nonprofit Technoserve, ACE works to address inefficiencies in farming practices and conditions of the cashew industry. ACE created an agriculture program to increase the number of cashew crops grown in India utilizing the least amount of resources. This program also improves farmers’ incomes by teaching them sustainability techniques and strengthening their market linkages. In 2014, over 1,000 farmers participated in the program.

Aatmaram Yashvant Agre, a farmer who participated in ACE’s agricultural program, successfully implemented the sustainability techniques to improve his farming. As a result, Agre’s overall cashew production grew by 30 percent. ACE, which works to end global poverty through business solutions, encourages advocacy on the issue of poverty and always accepts donations. By ensuring cashew harvesters are utilizing more efficient farming practices, their profits increase. Thus, poverty among workers in the cashew industry decreases. More efficient farming practices also ensure cashew harvesters avoid practices that cause them physical harm. And ultimately, this enables cashew harvesters to live humanely and lead healthier lives.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Flickr

IQ
It has been fairly well documented that a lack of food leads not only to health issues but also to problems in concentration that can affect daily tasks as well as education. What is not always discussed, however, is how a lack of food security affects IQ, a person’s mental bandwidth.

Eldar Shafir, a psychologist at Princeton University, conducted a study while visiting 464 farmers in 54 villages in Tamil Nadu in southern India before and after harvest. The farmers were given two tests to document their cognitive ability.

Due to the nature of farming in the areas studied, farmers often experience a surge of money flow around harvest time and then experience extreme hardship when it runs out prior to the next year’s harvest. The team led by Shafir found that the farmers had a more difficult time being able to pay back loans and pawned more belongings due to lack of money in the period leading up to the harvest than afterwards.

The farmers scored significantly lower on the tests before the harvest when money was tight, demonstrating that worry and stress were most likely affecting their ability to think clearly. This translated into a 13-point drop in IQ. Recognizing that people in general only have a certain amount of “mental bandwidth,””stress can decrease this bandwidth and leave little room for other cognitive abilities. In addition, it can contribute to poor decision-making among those who do not have food security.

When people are constantly worried about how much food they have or how they will afford to pay for the food they need for their families, the ability to think about other things diminishes. It is not that these people are any less smart; poverty takes up so much mental space that people’s abilities to make good long-term decisions for their families decrease dramatically because more fundamental needs take precedence.

Recognition of this is important for poverty initiatives and government programs around the globe. A person who is struggling with adequate food availability may not be able to fill out an outstanding amount of paper work for assistance or even a job application. In addition, hungry students are generally not able to concentrate in class and therefore may experience poor classroom performance. This could create a situation in which a child becomes disheartened by his or her performance and drops out of school as a result. In the long term, that student may be distrustful of education, a mindset they can pass on to their children.

The study concludes that food security must be a top priority for all aid work because it connects to so many other issues. Recognizing the significant impact of food security on a person’s mental capabilities is a first step in helping development agencies better adjust their programs to be more effective in the long run.

– Andrea Blinkhorn 

Sources: Princeton University, New Scientist
Photo: Ideorg