The world we live in is a beautiful place. We came here as guests and transformed ourselves into beasts. We conquered the planet, the sky and the ocean. We disfigured Mother Nature and disturbed her moods and vibrations. Ignoring the outcry of nature, we progressed towards the pinnacle of comfort. Fossil fuel permeated all facets of our lives, but we overlooked the ill-effects of the carbon emissions encircling us from all sides. We are now entrapped in a danger zone created by our own activities. The alarming warnings of our scientific community have been disturbing our conscience for last several years. Unless we take suitable measures to control carbon emissions, our future generations will not escape from the terrific impact of global warming and climate change. And now, in the aftermath of the Paris Conference on Climate Change, while many countries around the world are still troubling to formulate strategies to reduce human-induced carbon emissions, a small village in Kerala, named Meenangadi Kerala, created history by launching an ambitious mission to become India’s first Carbon Neutral village.
Carbon Neutrality, a Cool Concept of Clean Nature
The concept of carbon neutrality refers to achieving net zero carbon emissions, which means, balancing the carbon emissions in the atmosphere due to human activity with an equal amount of carbon removal from the atmosphere through natural or artificial processes. It can be achieved by planting more trees, reducing carbon emissions from households and vehicles, promoting renewable energy, organic farming, preserving soil and water resources, scientific waste management and eliminating plastics.
What has the Paris Conference to do with Meenangadi’s Mission?
Meenangadi is a small village in Wayanad district of Kerala, located amidst the Western Ghats region. Wayanad Kerala has been classified as one of the climate-change hotspot districts in Kerala. Studies have revealed that the minimum surface temperature of the Western Ghats region may rise by 2 to 4.5 Degree Celsius within three decades. If no remedial measures are taken, it will adversely affect the paddy cultivation as well as their staple crops like coffee, tea, black pepper, and cardamom. The region is highly susceptible to unpredictable climate change, and the villagers are alarmed of floods and droughts, with serious impact on the agriculture sector, biodiversity resources, as well as human life.
The scientific community all over the world had already warned mankind that the human-induced climate changes will gradually cause an imbalance in nature by changing the rhythm of seasons with the untimely occurrence of monsoon, increasing number of hot days, intense heat waves, severe storms, floods and hurricane. The United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Paris in December 2015 formed an international network of the countries across the world to strengthen the global response to climate change. It has been recognized and unanimously agreed that every country should make significant contribution to work towards a long-term goal to limit the global average temperature rise below 2 degree Celsius, by controlling human induced carbon emissions.
Consequent to the Paris conference, the state of Kerala also witnessed several debates and discussions regarding the havocs of unusual climate change and the strategies to be followed to tackle the issues. Concerned by the increasing climatic vulnerability, which has badly affected their paddy fields and staple crops, and anticipating a green abode of happiness and prosperity, Meenangadi Kerala Panchayat decided to become carbon-neutral. The idea was seeded by Sri Thomas Isaac, the Finance Minister of Kerala, who had participated in the Paris Conference. The State Government assured full support and assistance to the project and it was officially launched on the World Environment Day, on June 5, 2016.
The Team behind the Dream Project of Meenangadi Kerala
The project has the involvement of people from different working fields, including farmers, students, teachers, technical experts, scientists, social organizations and people’s representatives. Technical support and guidance are provided by the environment advocacy group Thanal, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundations Committee Agro-biodiversity Centre, Academy of Climate Change Education and Research (ACCER) of Kerala Agricultural University, Zoology Department of Kannur University, Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employee Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) workers, and Kudumbasree Unit. Funds for the project were earmarked by the Panchayat as well as the Kerala Government.
How they Progress towards the Target?
The project was initiated on Jun 5, 2016 with a deadline of 2020.The activities kicked off by conducting a carbon audit to assess carbon emissions from the consumption of electricity and fuel from all 9000 houses and small factories located in the village, as well as emissions from vehicles. Assessment of carbon emissions from trees was completed with the support of students and faculty of ACCER, which was followed by the measurement of carbon levels in soils. Based on the carbon levels, a survey was initiated to identify specific areas of the village to formulate plans for planting more trees and organize definite project activities.
38 acres of land around a temple had been converted into a forest, where the saplings of thousands of trees were planted and preserved under the guidance of MGNREGA team. More than 3 lakh saplings were distributed among the families of the village to plant in different places, and the villagers were supported and educated by the MGNREGA workers to plant and conserve them. The individual households are offered incentives to plant and protect the trees.
Organic farming has been initiated in 70 acres of land, and with the cultivation of clean vegetables and fruits, the village has become vegetable self-sufficient. The dislike of farmers regarding the use of pesticides and chemicals on crops boosted the organic farming activities.
To ensure the availability of water supply in the wells throughout the year, 456 water storage ponds have been dug in the village, and fish cultivation has been initiated in most of them.
An electric crematorium was commissioned in the village in order to reduce the substantial use of wood for cremations.
Scientific as well as natural waste management methods are followed by individual families throughout the village. By conducting awareness campaigns about the ill effects of plastic, people made it a habit to use eco-friendly bags for purchasing goods from the market. On 5th June 2017, exactly after one year of launching the project, Meenangadi town declared itself as “Plastic Free Panchayat” and started distributing paper bags with the support of paper bag making units as well the Kudambasree unit.
Access to sustainable energy is essential to improve the energy efficiency of any smart village. The village has decided to go for solar energy, which will reduce the usage of conventional energy sources. It is also proposed to set up an LED lamp manufacturing unit that will provide energy efficient bulbs in every household in the village.
With several innovative plans in the pipeline for the next four years, the team leaders and the people are marching ahead with confident steps towards the target.
Challenges along the Way faced by Meenangadi panchayath
To achieve zero carbon village is not an easy task, but not impossible too. It involves interference in the lifestyle of the people, which they have been following for generations. In the initial phase, most of the farmers viewed the activities with suspicion and raised protests. Technical experts and people’s representatives conducted several meetings, classes, seminars and awareness campaigns to educate and enlighten the people and presented a clear picture of the project and its long-term benefits. Interactive meetings are being held frequently to clarify the doubts of the farmers and make them more confident in the venture. Once they become aware of the significance of the project a strong sense of determination is developed among the people to achieve the goal.
The entire team is completely confident of this innovative experiment, without any fear of failure. The aim is not to become the best village in India, but to become a model for the entire villages in India.
Benefits of Becoming Carbon Neutral
Though it involves difficulties in the initial stages, a carbon neutral village will bring long-lasting benefits, both economic as well as environmental. Being a major exporter of coffee and black pepper, once the carbon neutral status is attained, the farmers can sell their products with a “carbon-neutral tag”, which has a huge demand in the international market and attract high price.
Shade grown coffee is another great possibility, which is a form of coffee produced under a canopy of trees. Since it is organically grown without using any chemicals, it has an increasing demand in the international market and fetches high price to the farmers.
This carbon neutral smart village project will set a classic example for the country and will win national and global acclaim, marking it one of the most sought after tourist destination in the world tourism map.
It is also proposed that once the village becomes carbon-neutral, the experience can be utilized to spread this program to the entire Wayanad district in the coming years.
The initiative of Meenangadi town for a noble cause will be an inspiration to other villages in India and all over the world, and let us hope more and more villages and cities will come forward to follow their footsteps and march ahead to achieve zero carbon emission. ….And the world will remain as the most beautiful place to live!