A drought prone Anantapur district (second driest and one of the poorest districts in India), a tiny village called Tekulodu and the birth of a new paradigm, ProtoVillage – a first of its kind self-sustained eco-friendly village. In the words of its founder Kalyan Akkipeddi, “This is a centre for learning, practice, demonstration of knowledge, aiding communities to be ecologically sustainable, socially cohesive and economically viable.”
Eight years of corporate life, and the journey of a life-time. “I quit my job and went on a two and a half year expedition across rural India. My hosts were friendly, compassionate individuals from extremely marginalized families. This journey changed my perception of poverty. I found the idea of creating abundance more inspiring than eradicating poverty,” expresses Kalyan, who wants to create new opportunities in which poverty, in any form, cannot exist.
His time on road, personal interactions and experiences demystified many ambiguous thoughts. “Now, I can confidently infer that a happy community demonstrates a few paramount qualities – Respect for nature, symbiotic co-existence, essential knowledge, diversity of thought, skills etc, practice of arts and culture, and yes, the role of money clearly transpires means to an end only.” Cradling this vision in mind, Kalyan set upon a new journey when he chose to live in a village called Tekulodu in Andhra Pradesh. “I lived and worked with a different family each day, to understand their life better. I had to convince the poorest of farmers (most individuals’ annual income was just Rs 6,500) to put off decisions to migrate to cities, seeking acceptance and trust in practices supported by me. Finally, eight families expressed conformity. In December 2013, a patch of 12.5 acres of dry and drought-prone land covering Tekulodu Panchayat, Chilamathur Mandal, and Anantapur district was secured and lovingly named the ProtoVillage.”
The families worked for 6 months without compensation as a demonstration of commitment to the vision. The abandoned, parched land slowly metamorphosed into a thriving, life-supporting homeland. Ecologically sensitive and sustainable practices are encouraged by adopting alternative sources of energy. Currently, the village is a couple of weeks away from becoming energy surplus through wind and solar only. Kalyan believes that this is not only a clean and sustainable way to generate electricity, but is also a great alternative to fossil fuels – thereby not contributing to global warming in any way. “Veggies were grown adopting bio-dynamic natural farming methods. Even our structures are eco-friendly, like the dormitory. It’s made of locally sourced material, and zero cement, costing just Rs 17000,” discloses Kalyan.
In the recent past, the baleful scars of ill-informed, falsely enthused afforestation practices in the country are more than evident. So, how did Kalyan go about changing this facet of agriculture? “Birds, butterflies, bees and other species are absolutely necessary for the propagation of life. They are not just good indicators of a healthy land, but are critical to its survival. We have a lot of bird species on our village that are waning in population in neighbouring villages. Bees, butterflies and bats are common,” sites Kalyan, who discourages the use of pesticides and fertilizers that lead to environmental degradation. “We are in the process of creating an indigenous forest nursery, and have so far planted over 5000 saplings in the village common area. We will also be working very closely with the local watershed team of the government to conserve soil and water, make the afforestation dense and bio-diverse. The villagers practice contour farming, conserving rainwater and also reduce soil loss from erosion.”
Kalyan strives to bring about a balance by encouraging sound environmental management policies and at the same time ensuring long-term economic benefits for the communities. “The villages’ Community Sustained Agriculture promotes urban consumers to pre-pay farmers to access safe and healthy vegetables at harvest – and yes, sans middle-men. Today, villagers are proud owners of a model vegetable farm and a fruit orchard, a nursery for afforestation, vegetables and herbs with indigenous seed varieties – thereby protecting native species.” The afforestation nursery, Kalyan foresees, “Will have a total of over 100,000 saplings of over 50 indigenous species, and we plan to grow fodder hydroponically – 100 kg of nutritious micro-greens per day within 100 sq ft, with recycled water.”
This aside, ProtoVillage is working towards making the village open-defecation free, by monitoring the construction of 400 toilets in the Panchayat. “The toilets will be built using the local supply chain bricks made by village women, and masonry done by trained local masons. Each of these will eventually scale out by partnering with Self Help Groups from other villages, thus extending the value-chain,” envisions Kalyan.
As the dream slowly turns into a “sustainable” reality, Kalyan unequivocally lays down his vision for the future. “The land will be home to diverse forms of life, the water tables will rise, soil will increase levels of carbon, farms will resemble forests with enough food for every inhabitant, and people will live healthy and happy lives in eco-friendly homes. The community will have enough time to learn new skills and pursue hobbies. The ProtoVillage model can be replicated elsewhere and that’s when the journey begins, yet again.”