Work Visit to Phaltan

For my work with the Appropriate Rural Technologies Institute I spent 3 nights at their headquarters in Phaltan, a rural town about 110km away from Pune. I was sent there to interview the staff, some of the entrepreneurs they have trained, farmers implementing their technologies and users of their energy technologies so I can compile a report on things ARTI could do better. It’s been an interesting (read somewhat frustrating) process figuring out what I’m supposed to do.

Making charcoal brickets from waste sugarcane material

I feel like my visit to Phaltan has been a turning point because I was able to collect data that will allow me to actually give some useful feedback to ARTI.  The entire internship experience has been really great at giving me a taste of how difficult it can be to get things done on the ground with an NGO in the developing world. The visit to Phaltan also depend my respect for the truly inspiring work ARTI is doing.

 

Me planing sugarcane seedlings

Myself and the interoperate who came with me got there by bus, the bus system is truly crazy but despite the seeming ciaos you still manage to get a bus that will take you to the place you need to go. We spent the first day getting an overview of all the technologies ARTI has created. These include improved cook stoves, increased air flow and chimneys creates more efficient burning, reducing fuel consumption and indoor smoke; low tec greenhouses, plastic sheets a little over a meter high that trap CO2 inside the plots to increase growth;

Different stoves and the Sari Cooker System

vermy (worm) composting and raised beds; improved techniques for planning sugarcane; bamboo treatments to make the poles last for 8-10 years without rotting rather then 2-3; bamboo technologies, drying racks, water tanks and decorative structures; bio-charcoal, making charcoal from agro-waste, turning it into brickets to burn in a stove; the SARI Cooker System, which won an international award, a stove a cooking system that will make food without needing attention; home biogas plants and some others. These technologies area really cool- very low tec. and generally easy to understand but make real improvements in the lives or rural people’s.

Me eating fresh sugarcane- delicious!

Saturday I got to visit an entrepreneur who has her own sugarcane nursery that has grown substantially and created a real source of income for her family. She now higher 12-15 people to help her with the work and demand for seedlings outpaces her ability to supply them. Using these seedlings and planning them using spacing ARTI and the entrepreneurs recommend farmers save 2 months of watering and fertilizing seeds, and their yield increases up to 20 tons of sugarcane per hector! As cool as it was talking to this women and some of the farmers I think my favorite part of the afternoon was getting to munch of sugarcane cut fresh from the field.

Organic banana's! They grow in layers according to how old the tree is- this is 4 generations old

Sunday morning I got to visit a really amazing organic farm. I still amazing by how many initiatives are going on with organic farming in India. As much as India is touted as an incredible success of the green revolution, and while it is true that become of modern agriculture and GM techniques, farmers are facing incredible difficulties with modern agriculture. High expenses of seeds and fertilizers push out smaller farmers who can’t afford the upfront investment, and in many cases the land has become severely degraded because of poor farming practices. At this farm they were experimented with vermy compost (worm composting), and vermy wash (a mix of fermented cow urine, water and organic matter) for fertilizer, creating their own organic pesticides from cow urine, the crushed leaves of trees and chilies, using intercropping to insure plants got the nutrients they needed.

Me with some really tall African Corn

I got to try two fruits I had never heard of- Stone Applies, which had a very hard outer shell and a brown mushy, tangy middle I wasn’t too fond of, and Chiku which quite good sweet brown round fruits. We also got to see wild peacocks, and were given a peacock feather that they collect as we left- it’s supposed to be good luck to have one in your household, but I just can’t get over how beautiful it is!

One the the installed improved rural cook-stoves

That afternoon and Monday I got to interview a bunch of people from Phaltan and the surrounding rural areas who were implementing ARTI technologies. It was a great experience for me to get to visit these different homes. Seeing the rural women making breakfast on a traditional wood burning stove really showed me how important these simple developments are. Reducing the indoor smoke from stoves can literally save hundreds of millions of lives around the world. I was also amazed at the overwhelming favorable responses for ARTI technologies. While not all users were using the technologies quite correctly, they all were very pleased with the technologies.

One of the kids from the Sugarcane Nursery holding two freshly cut stalks

Overall I’d call the visit a success, and hopefully the report I write will make some helpful suggestions for how ARTI could improve.

Me with one of ARTI's home bio-gas plants

A truck loaded with sugarcane- I saw hundreds around Phaltan

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