One of Bengaluru’s most vibrant localities, sprinkled with pubs, stores and cultural spaces, Koramangala is also home to approximately 1,500 trees. Lending to the neighbourhood’s greenery, the trees also leave the streets covered in fallen foliage. These fallen leaves would have been left to decay or burn, but for a group of concerned residents who found a solution.
Kora3B Compost is an initiative by members of the Koramangala 3rd Block Residents’ Welfare Association, turning fallen leaves into manure for farms and gardens.
The foundation of the initiative was laid in 2013 by core members Anil Chinmiah, Ajai Tirumalai and Ashish Patel. Ajai says, “Look at satellite images and Koramangala is a green spot. The trees shed a tremendous amount of leaves which would usually be discarded and burnt creating a lot of smoke. We started the initiative hoping to solve the problem of smoke and also contributing to the environment.”
The association got in touch with the BBMP and found an abandoned corner in a local playground to start the initiative. Interestingly, none of the founder members knew how to compost and the early days involved a lot of trial and error.
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With research and help from experts, the group of eco-crusaders gradually set up a composting unit and invested in a machine to shred the huge quantities of leaves and a mesh device to aid segregation. Apart from basic machinery, Ajai says that the process is straightforward and not reliant on mechanical or technological help.
“The process is fairly simple. We pile up the leaves collected by the BBMP workers, whom we have trained in segregation,” he says. “We add water to the leaves and occasionally cow dung, which we procure from a local cowshed. Once a month, we turn the pile. Earlier, we had to manually remove plastic and other waste from the leaves but now we have a modified mesh device for the task.”
The compost produced by the leaves is not just poured back for residential purposes. With excess compost at their disposal, Kora3B Compost also sells their product to gardeners and farmers.
In three years, the initiative has grown by leaps and bounds — the association sold 160 tonnes of compost in 2016 and composted around 500 tonnes of leaves.
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From a mere square kilometre, the area of operation has grown threefold for Kora3B Compost. The project is largely funded by the residents who split the responsibility to pay the labourers on the project and keep the operations and machinery running. The growing sale of compost has contributed to the initiative’s self-sufficiency.
Ajai mentions that their predominant customer base includes urban residents as well as nurseries and small farming initiatives. “We use our social contacts and rely on word-of-mouth publicity to assist us, and we want to drive the initiative forward purely on the sale of compost.”
He adds, “The BBMP sends us more leaves than ever before, from other neighbourhoods as well.” With increasing success, Kora3B Compost also holds sales and sets up stalls in exhibitions spaces. It also hosts gardening sessions and mentorship initiatives.
Not just a business initiative, Kora3B Compost has been a means for the community itself to come together.
A small but intimate community, the members have come together to brainstorm and solve their problems from the very start. As the initiative is on a steadily sustainable path forward, its close-knit community of founders and members have inspired others.
“We receive a lot of queries from other communities as well, and we try to help them get started,” Ajai says. In fact, communities have emerged all over Bengaluru that work in different areas of waste management. They are doing marvellously, and in this success also lies a challenge.
“One of our chief concerns is reaching out to people and finding more customers for the compost,” Ajai says. “Not just us, but many communities are often left with more compost they need. At the same time, there are many who are looking for quality compost. We are seeking help with marketing and social media to expand our outreach.”
Setting an inspiring example for citizen-driven initiatives, Kora3B Compost contributes to far larger goals of cleanliness, sustainability and community action. Their efforts are small but the impact is far-reaching — after all, every drop of water makes an ocean.