This is the first post in the "Small is Beautiful" series.
The first initiative I would like to cover is Appropriate Rural Technology Institute (ARTI) based in my home city, Pune. Started in 1996 by Dr. Anand Karve, ARTI has become a leading research center for developing innovative products and technology for rural India and fostering small scale village enterprises.
Majority of Indians (more than 70%) still live in villages and are dependent on agriculture and related industries for their livelihood. One could say that the world is not quite flat yet for a lot of Indians. Lack of adequate basic infrastructure in villages and lack of education are the two biggest impediments to India realizing its true potential. One of the ways to bring development is to give the tools and training necessary to earn a good livelihood in the hands of people and give them opportunity to participate fully in the economy. Over the last decade ARTI has made this its primary mission and has completed over 50 different projects in appropriate rural technology. ARTI has also started a center to foster rural enterprises based on the technology it has developed. Here is a snapshot of it's objectives from its website.
ARTI undertakes research to study, develop, standardise, implement, commercialise and popularise innovative appropriate rural technologies with special emphasis on making traditional rural businesses more profitable and also on generating novel employment opportunities in rural areas. We have now nearly 25 standardised and field-tested technologies to offer to rural entrepreneurs through our Rural Entrepreneurship Development Centre (REDC). Our sphere of activities is no longer restricted to Maharashtra, but has spread to other states including Goa, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pardesh, Sikkim, Tripura and Kerala. Some of our technologies are also being tried out in other developing countries in Asia and Africa. (read more...)At Oorjaa we are more interested in the energy related projects. Both of the rural energy related project by ARTI have won the Ashden award for sustainable energy. The latest project is a compact biogas system that can operate on household raw vegetable and food waste. This is especially relevant because of its application to individual households in urban and semi-urban as well as rural areas. Biogas is not new in India. There have been attempts by central and state governments to popularize biogas in rural areas since 1950. In my childhood I remember there used to be signs in Marathi saying: "गाव तिथे गोबर गॅस " (A biogas plants in every village). The initial plants were focused on cattle dung (गोबर) as the source. In India the dung is traditionally dried into flat patties (called शेण्या in Marathi) and used as fuel. The initial plants needed skilled monitoring of the dung input to the digester to ensure continuous operation. Lack of adequate training in the use of these plants led to failure. Many of these plants either did not perform to standards or fell into disuse. Even today India has a national program for promotion of biogas [::MNES link]. Inspite of the mixed success record there are around 3.5 million biogas plants in operation in India according the ministry of non-conventional energy sources [MNES].
The compact biogas plant developed by ARTI is significantly different than the models developed by the national program. It uses considerably less amount of input waste, can operate on domestic household waste (as opposed to cattle dung), costs less to install and is much more efficient at producing biogas than the conventional designs. To quote from ARTI website...
Dr. Anand Karve (President of ARTI) developed a compact biogas system that uses starchy or sugary feedstock. Just 2 kg of such feedstock produces about 500 g of methane, and the reaction is completed with 24 hours. The conventional biogas systems, using cattle dung, sewerage, etc. use about 40 kg feedstock to produce the same quantity of methane, and require about 40 days to complete the reaction. Thus, from the point of view of conversion of feedstock into methane, the system developed by Dr. Anand Karve is 20 times as efficient as the conventional system, and from the point of view of reaction time, it is 40 times as efficient. Thus, overall, the new system is 800 times as efficient as the conventional biogas system. (read more...)
ARTI is now being funded by the US-EPA to commercialize this technology. Under this project ARTI provides training to rural entrepreneurs to build these plants and sell them on a purely commercial basis. Between 2003 and 2006 ARTI has installed 800 such plants.
The other rural energy project by ARTI is the technology to generate briquetted charcoal from sugarcane waste and the associated Sarai cooking system. This project received the Ashden award in 2002. The Sangli, Satara and Kolhapur districts in Maharashtra are popularly known as the "sugar belt". Large amount of sugarcane is cultivated in these areas. After sugarcane is harvested large amount of thrash (roughly 4 million tons) mainly consisting of the leaves is burnt on the field itself. This practice has been going on for ages. ARTI has come up with a novel technique to convert the leaf thrash into briquetted charcoal. ARTI has also developed a stove called "Sarai" that can efficiently burn these briquettes. This stove can be used for cooking and replaces the traditional wood burning stove (चूल in Marathi) used in many rural households.
You can have a look at other rural technologies developed by ARTI by visiting their website. One common thread you will find in all of them is that they fit very well in the "simple, sustainable, low-cost, high impact" model. All of these technologies use local resources, supplement or improve activities traditionally practiced in the area and hence are easy to adopt for the target population. This makes integration of the technology in the rural areas much easier. I believe that this is the direction to achieve development in the most efficient and sustainable way.
Here at Oorjaa we will keep a keen watch on future technologies developed by ARTI, so do keep checking back.
 ARTI website
 Ashden Awards website
 Ashden Awards press releases for the 2006 award (Compact biogas system) and 2002 award (Briquetted charcoal system)
 India Together article about ARTI
 MNES link for national biogas program
 An interesting thesis about integration of biogas technology in India (PDF file)
Technorati Tags: ARTI, Rural Technology, Biogas, Biomass, Ashden Award