Indoor air pollution (IAP) is one of the world’s major environmental problems. The major reason behind this is the usage of solid fuels for cooking inside the house, which leads to the contamination of air resulting in ambient air pollution.
According to the Tracking SDG7: The Energy Progress Report 2018, if the current pattern continues, 2.3 billion people would be still using biomass in 2030 globally.
Renewable energy, undoubtedly, is the need of the hour. A lot of startups are working to curb this issue. One such startup, based out of Bihar, is trying to change the daily lives of several rural households with their ‘green’ idea, generating employment opportunities for many.
Akansha Singh & Ashutosh Kumar, co-founders of Swayambhu Innovative Solution, wanted to serve the bottom of the pyramid and make the rural residents self-sustainable and self-reliant in the field of energy (cooking fuel & electricity) and organic manure. The people they serve are mostly from SC/ST and BPL communities, daily wage workers or small & marginal farmers.
Akansha is an alumnus of Banasthali Vidyapith and Tata Institute of Social Sciences. “My college taught me the art of serving back to society. I have always kept myself engaged in some social activities,” she says.
“While completing my thesis in my masters, I stayed in a village with my group of friends. We not only stayed but also practised their lifestyle and daily itinerary. I noticed that most women were cooking on conventional fuel; farmers used to irrigate farms late at night due to irregular electricity supply. The whole village was closed by evening — agriculture was at a loss due to excessive usage of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and adulterated organic fertilizers. That’s when I realized how much these people needed help and guidance — they needed to be self-reliant,” she further added.
The amount of wet waste they generated was enough to convert into energy and slurry as organic fertilizer. We decided to use that energy for activities like cooking, setting up decentralized rural enterprises etc.
And this is how Swayambhu Innovative Solution came into the picture.
The duo generally works with village mukhiyas or any government department that has a hold-in that particular community. A basic survey is also conducted for deep insights like the number of households, members/ family, caste, availability of cattle, land availability and basic financial details. Funding is either arranged by the organization itself or by the village community, or sometimes by both.
They are in an early stage, have been recognized by the Government of Bihar, and have worked with ten villages so far, impacting ~2.5k villagers.
“The road was not easy for us. We have faced so many challenges and rejections from the village communities and funding agencies because of the misconception and lack of knowledge of biogas plants. But with time, we managed to make them understand both the concept and importance of it,” says Ashutosh. The people, as he says, are now quite positive and looking forward to installing biogas plants in their villages.
Though the renewable energy sector is encouraged by the government, funding is also an issue. A lot of organizations are helping with funds/ grants but not much when it comes to biogas plants. We have been working in Bihar, where we have a shortfall of industries and almost no availability of CSR funds. Even if it is, it routed through big organizations or government agencies. We, as a startup, struggle hard in receiving those funds.
Akansha and Ashutosh have been working with some of the most remote villages and Naxal affected areas in Bihar. They have realized how hard it had been for them since the resources were next to zero for them. “The locals have been really supportive and enthusiastic,” says the duo.
Apart from the biogas projects in the future, the duo is also planning to extend their services to generate more livelihoods by establishing a Decentralized Rural enterprise (DRE) by providing training to women and engaging more individuals in organic farming.
“Indian villages are still not explored, and there is so much to do for them — with them. City life definitely attracts, but small villages, especially those in the country’s remote parts, need more help and support. There is a huge gap between rural and urban living, and only individuals/ organizations like us can bridge this gap,” Ashutosh added.
About one million deaths occur annually in India due to household air pollution, according to a report by The Lancet Respiratory Medicine CommissionSource
Working in the development sector requires you not to expect much, and Akansha & Ashutosh are quite happy with what they are doing right now. “Every rejection gives you confidence, and every failure means another learning. And one must keep learning and unlearning,” they end with this!
Swayambhu Innovative Solution is also recognized by Startup India and incubated under Atal Incubation Center (AIC) Banasthali, supported by NITI AAYOG. You can visit their website and reach out to them via this link.