Local Practices in Community Development

By Rebecca Mancini, Good Work News, December 2004

Binod opens his hands to show us the seeds he is holding. We are on a porch in the remote village of Khanda-Bhanta in the Indian province of Orissa. Binod tells us in broken English that they are the seeds the villagers have collected in preparation for the biodiesel unit that will be soon installed. He excitedly explains the process for gathering and storing the seeds. This is an age old village tradition, just one among many that Geeta and Ramani and their project CTxGreen, have adopted to create an alternative energy source. As Geeta and Ramani made plans to leave Kitchener to implement their project, they invited Kari Kokko and I to visit Gram Vikas and see the development stages of the project.

This biodiesel project seeks to make use of traditional village practices to create an energy source that is easily produced, environmentally friendly and has numerous other benefits for the villages. CTxGreen has strived to understand local practice in order to adapt the creation of the oil, alcohol and lye which the biodiesel is made of. The oil can be pressed from a variety of local nuts, while the fermentation of the alcohol can make use of traditional methods. The oil press itself will provide a valuable resource that will enable villagers to press their own oil, saving them countless days and money. The oil cakes, which come from the pressing of the oil, work as fertilizer, while the byproduct of glycerin has potential for other creative ventures. This approach demystifies a technical process and creates a sustainable resource for villages.

Gram Vikas, which is hosting CTxGreen, is a non-governmental organization that works closely with villages in Southern Orissa. Gram Vikas, which translates as Village Development, was started by university students looking to support villagers on a grass roots level through their myriad of challenges. Beginning with cyclone relief the projects include educational initiatives, farming techniques, health and rural sanitation, sustainable livelihoods, housing and alternative energy.

Their main program, Rural Health and Environment Planning (RHEP), looks at sanitation in villages. Using 100% village participation, a well is created over a safe water source, toilets and a water tank are constructed and using a gravity flow system, running water flows to taps. The implementation of RHEP is combined with various support groups that help people to make the transition from a community event to a private practice.

Gram Vikas hopes to reach 1% of Orissian villages by the year 2020, a goal that is unattainable without new initiatives in alternative energy. For RHEP the water pump requires power, yet the majority of villages have no hope of grid connection in the near future. To meet this need, Gram Vikas is working on developing alternatives that are reasonable and affordable. Thus the biodiesel project is one among many similar concepts that are being developed.

The idea of full village participation is fundamental to all of Gram Vikas’ programs. Without people undertaking the majority of the initiative, little can be accomplished. Gram Vikas maintains they are only present in villages as a support but not to force their ideals on people. This spirit of local participation is one that attracted Geeta and Ramani. By modifying the scientific method of biodiesel to make it accessible to people who do not have access to technology, they are capturing this spirit of local democracy.

In another village we are led through a farmer’s field to a nearby waterfall to see the traditional distillation of alcohol. Geeta begins to explain to the farmer that there is a way of using the alcohol to create energy. The farmer quickly does calculations, and asks a question. Geeta replies then turns to us and remarks that it is the village people who understand the process and the possibilities, it is they, the so called uneducated, who understand it better than the city folk.

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