A technical report on energy and agriculture for smart villages in India was recently released. The smart village concept as developed by the Smart Villages Initiative, explores how renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and hybrid combinations) offers attractive and sustainable opportunities to rural communities in India.
The report is an outcome of a workshop attended by experts from the domains of research, entrepreneurship, information and communications technology, business, finance, policymaking, and non-profit to discuss and focus more
attention on the relationship between energy and agriculture relevant to smallholder farmers in India.
Women entrepreneurs in smart villages was a topic of discussion by Dr Shailaja Fennell, Lecturer, Centre of Development Studies, University of Cambridge. Dr Fennell argued that reliance on biomass for cooking, creates risks and hardships for women. At the same time large number of rural households are without electricity, for example, 87% in Bihar and 71% in Uttar Pradesh. Therefore, enabling energy access could provide opportunities for women’s entrepreneurship. Women play a critical role in energy provision and consumption within households and communities, and therefore possess valuable knowledge relevant to sustainable energy solutions.
Mr Debajit Palit, Associate Director, Social Transformation, The Energy and Resources Institute, discussed renewable energy and mini-grids for agriculture. Mr Palit outlined an overall framework for mini-grids comprising three levels of access: 1) small-scale renewable energy technologies for isolated and vulnerable communities providing for basic needs such as lighting and cooking, which can create a market for mini-grids; 2) village-scale mini-grids for larger or more developed villages which can cater for productive uses in agriculture, education, sewing, and cottage industries as well as street lighting; 3) mini-grids coupled with the main grid for a cluster of villages providing modern societal needs such as modern domestic gadgets and appliances for space heating, cooling and productive applications.
Successful implementation of a Smart NanogridTM solution at Chhotkei village in rural Odisha was described by Mr Ameet Deshpande, Head projects, SunMoksha. The 30 kW solution is now meeting the energy needs of 140 households, 20 streetlights, a temple and three community centres which is about 20 kW. The remaining has been set aside for day-time use by irrigation pumps and microenterprises such as poultry, stitching, rice-puff machines, provision stores, etc., to improve agricultural output, generate employment, and enable value addition.
Prof Dr Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Department of Electrical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Madras, spoke about ‘green homes’ for smart Indian villages and concluded that roof top solar direct current (DC) can change rural homes, as power can be available 24/7 at affordable rates even during periods of power outage. Properly designed roof top solar and solar micro-grid could power agricultural pumps and supplement power for rural industries. India’s rural scenario can change as India aims to meet 50% of its energy needs from solar by 2030.
As part of the workshop intensive breakout groups were formed to facilitate further detailed discussions on more concrete questions. Finance availability was a point of discussion since participants felt that loans for renewable energy technologies could be improved. Some participants also noted that there are guidelines in place encouraging banks to lend, but the implementation is very poor due to perceived risks.
Key points from the breakout group exercise were:
- The main problem is not finance, but market distortions which makes renewable energy unattractive to the private sector.
- Understanding the disconnect between villagers and markets: villagers are not aware of activities in urban areas which makes it difficult for them to enter the market.
- Agriculture start-ups must consider how to attract the end user keeping in mind that there has to be a ‘pull factor’ even for the best product.
Participants also discussed appropriate innovations that may influence climate change in agriculture, for example the use of e-markets and farmer producer organizations (FPO). India is rapidly moving towards e-markets where the product is graded with fixed pricing which reduces the role of intermediaries. FPOs enable negotiations to take place at the bulk level. By aggregating at the local level, combining products, activities, and having a fixed price from e-markets, greater security for farmers could be attained.
Sir Brian Heap, Special Advisor to the Smart Villages Initiative, noted that, “In India where two-thirds of the population lives in around 600,000 villages, empowering villagers to create income-generating enterprises can lead to improved food security, education and health, and to participatory democracy.”
According to Dr John Holmes, Co-leader of the Smart Villages Initiative said, “The national grid may never reach parts of India for economic and geographical reasons. Of the 240 million people who are not connected to the national grid, or are often without reliable energy supply, it has a negative impact on agriculture and associated activities that are extremely important within the rural economy. Energy shortages also create problems for lighting homes, charging mobile phones, and in some cases cooking.”
Dr Kiran Sharma, Chief Executive Officer, Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP), ICRISAT, explained three main elements in ICRISAT’s initiatives on Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD), which are: harnessing markets in ways that include the poor; reinvesting gains in innovations that move smallholders along the development pathway; managing risks that are barriers for the poor, and building resilience.
In India AIP has established 22 business agriculture incubators in agricultural institutes and universities. These incubators have trained 3,700 entrepreneurs and created over 200,000 jobs. Similarly in Africa, AIP has established six incubators, which have supported 186 agribusiness start-ups and commercialized 58 agro-technologies.
This workshop on ‘Energy and Agriculture for Smart Villages in India’ focused on energy for agriculture in villages and its potential to catalyze productive enterprises that add value to agri-business, the food chain and open new opportunities for food security, employment, education, and the engagement of women and girls in new enterprises.
To read the full technical report on the workshop click here