Manappuram Foundation is the social initiative arm of Manappuram Finance Limited. Aspiring to bring sustainable change and growth in marginalised sections of society, it set up Manappuram Foundation at Thrissur, Kerala to work for the betterment of people in the area of health, education, women empowerment and environment sustananbility. It has collaborated with Salim Ali Foundation headed by reputed environmentalist, Dr. V.S. Vijayan, to facilitate ‘holistic, integrated, eco-friendly self-sustaining development’ in Vellangallur Panchayat in Thrissur District, spread over an area of 26.61 sq km and a population of about 39,332 people.
The objective of this project is to show how local self-government institutions can improve the quality of life of the people in the 21 wards of this Gram Panchayat, while protecting and enriching the environment. The vision is to ensure clean air, water, food, housing, hygienic surroundings, non-conventional energy, social security, basic healthcare facilities, basic education and income generation activities for each individual. The project is envisaged in a totally democratic way, with individual assessment of all 9,497 houses in Vellangallur Panchayat across 68 socio-economic parameters.
Manappuram Foundation sanctioned Rs 15 lakh a year for five years totalling to Rs 75 lakhs (Rs 1.25 lakhs per month) as seed money to establish the V. C. Padmanabhan Chair for Ecology and Environmental Conservation at Salim Ali Foundation from July 2014 onwards. Although additional funding is expected from respective ministries and departments of both Central, State and local governments and environmental-friendly corporate bodies, the project has shown exemplary works in development through people’s movement in transforming the lives at the grassroot level. Learn more about the project from this conversation between V. P. Nandakumar, MD & CEO, Manappuram Finance Ltd and Archana Sinha.
What has been the impact of your collaboration with Salim Ali Foundation (SAF), which initiated a project in partnership with Vellangallur Grama Panchayat and residents to demonstrate holistic, integrated, eco-friendly sustainable development?
Our interactions helped the Panchayat realise the need for ecofriendly sustainable development projects, especially the need for organic farming which resulted in 70 percent of the people benefiting from our awareness programmes.
A socio-economic survey was conducted covering 60 percent of houses using 1579 students from 11 colleges in the district. 75 percent houses were mapped to formulate neighbourhood units of houses for easy planning. Data obtained was used to plan the project which reflected the interests of majority of the people. Priority was given to the health of the people, environment, organic farming of vegetables and paddy. The impact was seen in various areas:
Training and field trials were conducted to prepare fields for organic farming (vegetable beds) in all the wards. Selected farmers were trained for preparing organic manure and pest repellents during workshops in 2015 and 2016 and handbills on these techniques was circulated to all interested farmers. We distributed 1,50,000 saplings of five varieties of vegetables during 2014 covering most of the houses with the support of the Panchayat and Krishi Bhavan besides 12,000 saplings of cabbage and cauliflower in 2014 and 8400 in 2015. Sixteen nurseries were established in 2015 for producing vegetable saplings as a part of self-reliance; 1, 90,400 seeds of five varieties were provided by us and infrastructure developed by the farmers. Seeds of six other varieties were distributed to about 125 farmers in the same year. Similarly, seeds were distributed in 2016 to the nurseries and 250 farmers. 29,871 vegetable saplings were made available from the nurseries at subsidised cost to 4,904 farmers in 2015 and the nurseries’ sale totalled to Rs. 54,652.
Today, about 70 percent of the houses have started producing organic vegetables for their own use as well as for profit with the seeds and saplings provided to them. A random check of 122 vegetable gardens that followed our methods produced 2.4 tons of vegetables in a single season in 2015 worth approximately Rs. 45,000. During January to October 2016, we surveyed 91 families who harvested 93,746 kg of vegetables including banana and tubers and spices worth Rs. 37, 91,963. Farming in larger areas has been started by five groups (JLGs and others). Seven more groups have come forward for farming in larger areas for large scale production of vegetables. Vellangallur Panchayat members started organic farming of vegetables in Karuamathra. Almost all Kudumbasree units of over 300 have started organic farming of vegetables, most of them in small areas. We are providing seeds and farming instructions to them. Students of one of the schools have started organic farming of vegetables in July 2016. Our objective is to have organic farming in all the schools in the Panchayat.
Ecological Farm Fostering Centre (EFFC)
To provide information on organic/ecological farming to the needy, a small facility has been set up in December 2014 at the Panchayat building complex. Another rented building which houses the project office has facilities for holding meetings of smaller groups as well as a seed farm, which is part of the project.
Model Farm and Resource Centre
The first Model Farm which is expected to be a referral farm for those interested in organic farming was established by SAF at Vallivattam. We planted twenty different types of tubers, vegetables, banana, turmeric and ginger. The SAF team collected seeds of local varieties of vegetables were cultivated around the project office of the Salim Ali Foundation using isolation technique to avoid cross pollination so that the purity of the variety is kept. These seeds were distributed to the farmers. We also cultivated 24 varieties of rice obtained from Dr. Debal Dheb in Orissa as samples for spreading these as well as for conservation.
Intercontinental Network of Organic Farmers’ Organizations (INOFO) in collaboration with SAF started a seed farm for vegetables at Manakkalapadi giving training to a group of five women for growing genetically pure varieties of vegetables.
We could also influence farmers to increase the area of cultivation of paddy by converting fallow lands. 60 acres which were not cultivated for more than 20 years have been converted into organic paddy and in five acres,farming is done in two seasons instead of one. We undertake regular classes and provide technical advice to them.
‘The first Model Farm which is expected to be a referral farm for those interested in organic farming was established by SAF at Vallivattam. We planted twenty different types of tubers, vegetables, banana, turmeric and ginger. The SAF team collected seeds of local varieties of vegetables were cultivated around the project office of the Salim Ali Foundation using isolation technique to avoid cross pollination so that the purity of the variety is kept’
Our all-round developmental programmes also include building and maintaining fisheries for local fish farmers, making them self-sustainable. More than 15,840 fresh water fish seeds were supplied in 2015 through the Fisheries Department to 36 farmers while 82,600 fish seeds were distributed to 82 farmers in August 2016. Fish farming in polythene sheet tank was done by four people in July 2016 with subsidy from the Fisheries Department. Prawn farming was taken up in 2015-16. We plan to increase the farming area in the next year. The harvest for the last season was about 540kg/hectare of good quality prawns in SAF’s model plot. 3,000 Tilapia fingerlings (fish seeds) were released in the first week of September 2016 and they are growing well. We are providing organic feed such as amaranth leaves, etc., besides monitoring and checking the quality of water, etc.
There is water scarcity in almost all the wards and we have taken up the initiative of helping households secure water through harvesting system. With our joint initiative, the Panchayat received a sanction of Rs. 25 lakhs for installing water harvesting system in 350 houses. We are in the process of identifying the beneficiaries to install the system. To increase the extent of fish farms as well as maintaining them, we are contributing to the conservation of water in the Panchayat. The Environmental Economics Study Centre (EESC), Kerala Agricultural University conducted a workshop for farmers in March 2016. This was followed by a seminar on “Climate Change: Water Scarcity and Social Implications”.
Energy Conservation and Waste Management
We approached the Planning Board to facilitate coordination of our project with various departments of the State. The Chief Engineer of KSEB, Director ANERT, Director Energy Management Centre and Chairman Salim Ali Foundation, came together to promote energy conservation. Besides creating awareness for energy management and reduction of total energy consumption, we worked out a comprehensive programme for alternate energy sources such as biogas, solar lamps and other such measures. Conversion of conventional lamps and tubes into LED, providing solar energy for public institutions and houses is ongoing. With the help of ANERT, we have distributed 30 solar lanterns of 5W LED bulb each with solar panels in the Panchayat during February-March 2016.
Under the ‘Waste-Free Panchayat Programme’, we arranged a meeting with members of Vellangallur Panchayat, the Merchants Association and Kudumbashree. The first step taken was stopping the use of plastic carry bags in the Panchayat and a decision regarding this matter is under process. Paper bags of different types and sizes will be introduced, for which training will take place. The Merchants Association is keen to support this programme.
Please share the details of your initiatives in fostering small scale industries.
We are planning to conduct a training workshop in assembling LED bulbs in the near future when we have sufficient funds to do so. 25 youngsters have already been selected for this. Kits will also be provided to them. Four groups have also confirmed interest in Mushroom Farming. Funding for the training programme is expected from NABARD. Some women groups are making value-added products such as organic unniyappam, rice powder, avalose powder, sambar powder, turmeric powder, tamarind and pickle on a small scale basis. We are looking at supporting them financially.
To do away with plastic carry bags, we have also identified two women groups for the manufacturing of cloth carry bags and paper bags. This is the first step towards making the Panchayat waste-free. We are trying to get necessary equipment and facilities for them as and when we receive funds.
We have established a Producer Company “Vellangallur Foundation for Self-sufficiency” which was registered as a non-profit-making company in December 2015 with a Board of Directors comprising of 13 farmers. The unique feature of the Company is that the profit will not be shared among the Board of Directors and the shareholders, but will be ploughed back into the Panchayat for farming or any other socially pertinent activities as per the decision of the Board. Farmers are selling their products through this company at a better price. We are looking for funds to augment the activity. However, the sale of vegetables and some other products have been increasing steadily with total sale value of Rs.1,16,290 during April-September 2016.
‘Salim Ali Foundation was established with a mission for biodiversity conservation while ensuring food security and sustainable development. Drs. V. S. Vijayan and Lalitha Vijayan, who were both trained by (Late) Dr. Salim Ali (respected Indian ornithologist and naturalist), have been working for the conservation of nature and natural resources throughout their career. It was their dream to demonstrate how development can be chieved without destroying forests, wetlands, paddy fields and the environment’
Other Major Programmes
We coordinated fund arrangement for programmes such as Seed Festival in Vellangallur Panchayat with financial help from NABARD. Training was given by scientists and farmers from different regions and experience-sharing platforms helped in enriching and expanding the knowledge base. During this programme, a display and sale of 200 traditional varieties of paddy, 80 varieties of tubers, organic products from the Panchayat, local vegetable seeds and rice, cotton bags, value-added products, was organised. Classes on preparation of traditional drinks and foods, exhibition of traditional varieties of cows were also conducted. There was active participation from the Panchayat members. There was a great deal of enthusiasm from school and college students who volunteered with us as we conducted the programme. About 2500 people, including 597 farmers, attended this programme. We distributed advertisement handouts/handbills to highlight the project and its various initiatives on organic farming. A jackfruit festival was organised in April 2015 to popularise and educate the public about the health values and commercial potentials this fruit, which is found in abundance in the Panchayat.
Study tour: SAF took a selected group of 16 farmers on a study tour to Wayanad to take part in the ‘Traditional Rice Seed Conservers’ gathering organised by ‘Thanal’ in November 2015. The farmers were deeply enriched by the tour.
‘Awareness creation among majority of the people on the need for organic farming and development without destroying the wetlands, paddy lands and environment, was the first initiative. They now realise that this is the only option that will provide them clean soil, air, water, food and environment which will ultimately lead to healthier living’
How did you think of collaborating for the project and what were the initial responses to it?
Salim Ali Foundation was established with a mission for biodiversity conservation while ensuring food security and sustainable development. Drs. V. S. Vijayan and Lalitha Vijayan, who were both trained by (Late) Dr. Salim Ali (respected Indian ornithologist and naturalist), have been working for the conservation of nature and natural resources throughout their career. It was their dream to demonstrate how development can be achieved without destroying forests, wetlands, paddy fields and the environment. With financial help in the form of CSR funds from Manappuram Foundation, they established the V C Padmanabhan Chair for Ecology and Environmental Conservation. They took the opportunity to use this as seed money to undertake the “Holistic Integrated Eco-friendly Sustainable Development of Vellangallur Panchayat”, a first of its kind in the country. They were looking for a comparatively poor Panchayat with maximum diversity of land use and easy access from Thrissur where the SAF is based. After discussions with local MLAs and others, we found Vellangallur to be the most ideal. We discussed the project with the President of the Panchayat and members. After approval, the project became a joint venture between the Panchayat and SAF.
How much of the population has been covered under this project so far?
About 75 percent of the population have been covered during the awareness programme and 70 percent of families have started organic farming of vegetables.
Which concrete steps were taken to enrich the environment, ensure clean air and water, food and proper housing for the people?
Awareness creation among majority of the people on the need for organic farming and development without destroying the wetlands, paddy lands and environment, was the first initiative. They now realise that this is the only option that will provide them clean soil, air, water, food and environment which will ultimately lead to healthier living.
As explained earlier, about 70 percent of families have started producing organic vegetables for their personal use and for sale. They are slowly and steadily converting paddy crops organic. Fishes are fed natural fish food. People are becoming more aware and conscious of doing away with junk food and opt for natural produce. The Jackfruit festival and seed festival helped impart education on traditional, healthy food. Housing and related activities could not be taken up because of the lack of funds. But we were able to convince the Panchayat and the people to have eco-friendly houses using minimum non-renewable resources. One of the clear evidences of the realisation for clean air, water and environment is the stiff objection of the people to establish an Aqua Protein Project in the Panchayat. They have even filed a case against it.
What kind of non-conventional energy are the people using? How cost effective is it?
Our survey report shows that around 98 percent have electricity using conventional energy; 86 percent people are using wood and LPG for cooking. Biogas, solar lamps etc. are used by a few. Only 3.7 percent use biogas but 21 percent have shown interest. Very few people (4 percent) use solar water heater. Solar power lighting is expensive and not affordable to most. Project for implementing non-conventional energy is to be implemented under energy security.
One of the basic obstacles that come in the way of such project is the heterogeneous socio-economic group with their own beliefs. How do you manage to work through those when starting the projects?
Interaction with the people at the grassroot level who are direct beneficiaries, a bottom up planning process reflecting the needs of individual houses, convinced the people that they are also part of the planning process, equitable distribution of the benefits of the project without considering any caste, creed and religion. Regarding sustainable livelihood activities, we have explained above the action taken and successful implementation in agriculture and partly in small scale industries and health care. For ensuring clean water for drinking as well as irrigation, we are launching a project with great enthusiasm to conserve the wetlands (ponds, tanks, rivers, streams, lakes, backwaters) and make a register for each Panchayat showing precise detail of every wetland with measurements, etc. We are making a legal document of this too. A pilot project is in the offing from the State Government. If successful, it will be taken up with all Panchayats in the State.