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Initiative

Sep 10, 2004
Bio-diesel moves you can make right now

Enthusiasm for bio-diesel is growing in India. World oil prices, increasing unemployment in rural India and generally rising awareness about Pongamia and Jatropha seed oils’ potential have combined to put bio-diesel up there in the marquee. In fact, there is now a threat that the idea may have reached the stage—when politicians, NGOs and corporate PR guys begin to announce initiatives—that people may get the impression that “it has been done”.

Reality is, that while no technical problems in their use exist, nor people need to be persuaded to use them [tens of tribal villages are using bio-diesel right now], there is a huge shortage of these oils and a need to create new supplies of them. Jatropha may have to be cultivated anew in millions of acres. Though there is a good stand of pongamia in the wild, its seeds have to be gathered, pressed and the oil put to use.

There are many enthusiasts for the idea among readers of GoodNewsIndia who want to “do something” to promote bio-diesel. Now there are two initiatives they can join.

The first, is by the tireless Dr Emmanuel D’Silva, a former World Bank staffer, who now toils among tribal villages of Andhra Pradesh, encouraging increased use of pongamia oil as a diesel substitute. He had combined opportunities in carbon trading with the considerable stand of pongamia trees. In Powerguda village he spurred new pongamia plantation by villagers using money they received from delegates to World Bank conferences. They were paying for a ‘carbon debt’ incurred by the aircrafts they were flying.

The idea seems to be spreading. In a recent communication to GoodNewsIndia, Dr D’Silva writes “Forty-two individuals from four countries [Australia, Britain, India and the United States] pooled Rs 33,200 in just over two months to buy the equivalent of 174 tons of carbon dioxide from Kommuguda village in Adilabad district, Andhra Pradesh, India. This is the first such individually supported offset experiment in India.”

The idea behind D’Silva’s move is ‘environmental equity’. In far away Santa Barbara, a sensitive world citizen— and one of the contributors— Dr Mark Poffenberger feels he must ‘pay’ an environmental cost for the fuel he burns in his car. Contributions such as his, are pooled and given to people—like poor villagers in Kommuguda—as reward for the environmental value they create by using a diesel substitute. The money was given to Mrs Laxmibai, the head of a women self-help group in Kommuguda, who promptly ploughed it into creating a nursery for 10,000 pongamia saplings. All the received money was transferred to Kommuguda, without any overhead cost.

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