The Honeycomb Effect: Small Causes, Small Changes – Big Impact [Part 1]

What does a techie who now sets up rainwater harvesting systems in rural schools have in common with an urban farmer who advocates growing vegetables on terraces and balconies? Can an apartment owner who composts her kitchen waste identify with a villager who stitches washable sanitary pads, or a traditional honey hunter in the Nilgiris? In a sense, they are all alike—they are changemakers.

Divya Sreedharan talks to five social and ecological entrepreneurs, both individuals and organisations, who are saving the planet in their own little way. In Part 1, we present two of them.

Schooling them to be water-wise
The former techie now into rain water harvesting (RWH) is Avinash Krishnamurthy, executive director of Biome Environmental, a Bangalore-based non governmental organisation (NGO). Over the past year, Biome has installed, and in some cases revived (existing), RWH systems in eight government schools around Bangalore. Located in water-stressed regions, the schools depend on panchayat water. Supply is either erratic or non-existent. So, there is no safe water for cooking (the mid-day meal), washing vessels or even, for use in the toilets.

Yet from 2005, the Government of Karnataka has spent over Rs 77 crore on a Suvarna Jala scheme to install rooftop RWH systems in more than 23,000 schools in the state. Krishnamurthy says the scheme is not working. “At the individual school level, faculty are not involved in the system upkeep, there is no protocol for testing water quality. In some cases, the schools don’t even need RWH systems,” he explains.

Biome Environmental - Children with the rainwater storage sump

Biome Environmental - Children with the rainwater storage sump (Courtesy, Biome, Bangalore)

So far, Biome has spent Rs 7 lakh on the project. Local support and knowledge is crucial to their success. For instance, Ramakrishnappa from Kuruburakunte near Devanahalli, a local, helps the NGO identify schools with the worst water shortage. Given that there is also increasing water contamination, Biome wants to provide testing kits so students can test for fluorides and nitrates in the water. “Children can then monitor water quality in their villages,” says Krishnamurthy. For instance, at the Government Urdu School in Vijayapura, some 40 km from Bangalore, Biome spent Rs 11,000 to revive the school’s defunct RWH system. The NGO also showed teachers and the school’s 60-odd students how to maintain the RWH system.

Things are already changing. In August, there were good rains. And Nageena, a class seven student, is happy. “We can use the toilets now,” she laughs.

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Eat. Grow. Live
In the mid 1990s, a gardening enthusiast went public with his passion. Grow greens on your terraces and your balconies, he urged his fellow Bangaloreans. Not many listened. Bangalore was a sleepy city of sprawling bungalows and well-tended gardens then. As the city grew and space became measured in square feet, what Dr B N Vishwanath said all those years ago finally made sense.

A view of an Oota from your Thota event

A view of an Oota from your Thota event (Courtesy-- Garden City Farmers' Trust, Bangalore.)

Today, the agriculturist is considered one of the pioneers of urban farming in India. Founding trustee of the Garden City Farmers Trust (GCFT), his message is the same – “eat what you can grow in your garden” or Oota from your Thota (OfyT). Dr Vishwanath explains:

At organic gardening workshops, we tell participants to set up RWH systems and convert their kitchen waste into compost. That reduces their carbon footprint. We tell them to buy seeds for the first time and thereafter, to grow their own.

Now, seeds of interest in OfyT are being sown in neighbouring cities such as Chennai, Hyderabad and Thiruvanathapuram.

Bangalore being IT city, OfyT is growing thanks to innumerable blogs, websites and the GCFT Facebook page. Two former techies in particular, Meera K and Vincent Subramaniam, have played a prominent role in spreading the word as founder-co-editors of Citizen Matters, a Bangalore-specific community news platform. And they too are gardening enthusiasts. Meera has a small terrace garden, Vincent has fruit trees and a kitchen garden.

Bangaloreans checking out produce at Oota from Your Thota

Bangaloreans checking out produce at Oota from Your Thota (Courtesy-- Garden City Farmers' Trust, Bangalore.)

OfyT came into being as a workshop/exhibition in August 2011 as part of the celebration of Kitchen Gardens International Day. Five editions have been held since. The last OfyT event was held in Bangalore in November 2012.

To contact them:
Website: http://gardencityfarmers.org/
Facebook: www.facebook.com/groups/OrganicTerraceGardening

Also read: The Honeycomb Effect Part 2

This article first appeared in The Hindu Sunday Magazine, dated October 14, 2012, and has been republished here in arrangement with the newspaper and the author. Divya Sreedharan is a Bangalore-based journalist, who dabbles in short fiction (she came second in the Elle India 2011 short fiction contest) and also contributes articles to The Hindu Sunday Magazine, The Hindu Literary Supplement, Marie Claire India, Prevention India and Wedding Vows India. She blogs at deviousways.blogspot.com
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