Green initiative

Meenangadi in Kerala is well on its way to being India's first carbon-neutral panchayat

With a deadline of 2020, the town is working towards increasing green cover and reducing its carbon footprint.

The town of Meenangadi in Kerala’s Wayanad district is going back to nature in a big way. In the last seven months, this highly bio-diverse region in the Western Ghats has been witness to a plant population census, soil audit, energy audit, organic vegetable cultivation and awareness campaigns against plastic bags.

These are all part of efforts to make Meenangadi India’s first carbon-neutral panchayat – an ambitious project that was launched on June 5, World Environment Day, with the involvement of people’s representatives, scientists, students and farmers. The project has a target deadline of 2020.

Carbon neutrality refers to achieving net zero carbon emission by balancing the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a result of human activity with an equal amount of carbon sequestration or removal from the atmosphere.

The plan is to achieve this goal by expanding forest cover and reducing carbon emissions in Meenangadi. It is being implemented with the support of environment advocacy group Thanal, the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation’s Community Agrobiodiversity Centre, and Kannur University’s zoology department.

Eco-friendly measures

The activities kicked off in June with an assessment of carbon emission arising out of domestic consumption of electricity and fuels from all 9,000 houses in the panchayat and from vehicles. This was followed by a measurement of the carbon content of the soil and carbon emission from trees. The results will be utilised to decide which areas need more trees to be planted to offset the carbon emission.

As the project enters its seventh month, the panchayat has decided to tap solar power to reduce dependency on conventional energy sources, and to set up an LED lamp manufacturing unit to supply energy-efficient lights to all homes.

Vegetable farming has also received a big push with around 70 acres of land now being used for cultivation. “Meenangadi has become vegetable self-sufficient,” said Beena Vijayan, president of the panchayat.

The carbon neutrality project has made Meenangadi vegetable self-sufficient.
The carbon neutrality project has made Meenangadi vegetable self-sufficient.

Awareness campaigns against the use of plastic have encouraged people to carry eco-friendly bags for their vegetables, fish and other purchases. “A stroll into the panchayat fish market will reveal the impact of our campaign,” said Vijayan. “Vendors use eco-friendly carry bags and educate customers about the ill-effects of plastic bags.”

The participation of people on such a large scale has made the panchayat official confident about the success of the project. “We are moving in the right direction,” she said, adding that the panchayat plans to ban plastic across Meenangadi soon. “Merchants are the biggest users of plastic carry bags, so we will conduct a meeting with them on January 30, 2017 to decide on alternative measures,” she said. “I hope our panchayat can ban plastic bags by February.”

Why Meenangadi?

Wayanad is one of four climate change hotspot districts in Kerala, according to a report published by the State Action Plan on Climate Change. This report warns that the minimum surface temperature in the Western Ghats region may rise by 2 degrees Celsius to 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2050, which would retard paddy production and Wayanad’s staple thermo-sensitive crops such as cardamom, coffee, tea and black pepper.

In the aftermath of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Kerala witnessed many deliberations towards tiding over the crisis arising from climate change. And Meenangadi panchayat officials, alarmed by the already massive reduction in the area under paddy cultivation in their town, came forward with the carbon neutrality proposal.

According to the concept note for the project, prepared by Thanal, the panchayat plans to manage anthropogenic (man-made) carbon emissions through a series of environment-friendly methods and techniques for sustainable development. “The scheme in Meenangadi panchayat will be a model project in India, which is inclusive of interventions in every aspect of human life, guaranteeing income security and ensuring better living conditions for all,” the note stated.

“The ‘Carbon Neutral Meenangadi Grama Panchayat’ project envisions the reduction of human-induced carbon emission through people’s lifestyle and sustainable development in this region,” it added.

The advantages

Explaining why Meenangadi panchayat and Wayanad district have the potential to become carbon neutral by 2020, Girigan Gopi, principal scientist at the Community Biodiversity Centre, said, “Wayanad has 33% forest cover and no major industries that cause pollution; if there is a district that can become carbon neutral in India, it is Wayanad.”

Talking about the benefits of going carbon neutral, he added, “The carbon neutrality project would promote agro forestry, it would give farmers a source of income while nature would get a green cover.”

Wayanad is a major exporter of pepper and coffee. And there is a huge demand for products that come from carbon neutrality zones. “Post-2020, Meenangadi farmers can market their products with a carbon-neutral tag,” Gopi said. “It will fetch farmers high price for their produce.”

He also pointed to the growing demand for shade coffee – coffee plants grown under a canopy of trees – in the international market. “Encouraging coffee farmers to grow shade-tolerant Arabica variety will help them get good price,” he added.

Challenges

That said, farmers in Wayanad still have doubts about carbon neutrality, said panchayat official Beena Vijayan. “It should be answered if we want to make it a success,” she added.

Gopi also said the project should be done carefully as farmers view most changes with suspicion. “Wayanad has seen many protests against the recommendations of the Gadgil Commission,” he cautioned. “Farmers do not support projects that affect them badly.”

In 2011, the Gadgil ecology expert panel had recommended strict measures to protect the Western Ghats – a world heritage site – from human interference, leading to protests by farmers, who accused it of ignoring their livelihood concerns.

State Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac, who is a staunch supporter of the carbon neutrality project, suggested an interactive conference with farmers in which they could discuss practical difficulties with experts. “We will organise an interactive conference soon where the experts can answer all the doubts of farmers,” he said.

Kerala Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac at the launch of the carbon neutrality project on June 5.
Kerala Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac at the launch of the carbon neutrality project on June 5.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content  BY 

Harvard Business School’s HBX brings the future of business education to India with online programs

HBX is not only offering courses online, but also connecting students to the power of its network.

The classic design of the physical Harvard Business School (HBS) classroom was once a big innovation – precisely designed teaching amphitheaters laid out for every student to participate from his or her seat with a “pit” in the center of the room from which professors orchestrate discussions analyzing business cases like a symphony lead. When it came to designing the online experience of HBX—the school’s digital learning initiative—HBS faculty worked tirelessly to blend these tenets of the HBS classroom pedagogy with the power of new technology. With real-world problem solving, active learning, and social learning as its foundation, HBX offers immersive and challenging self-paced learning experiences through its interactive online learning platform.

Reimagining digital education, breaking the virtual learning mold

Typically, online courses follow a one-way broadcast mode – lectures are video recorded and reading material is shared – and students learn alone and are individually tested. Moving away from the passive learning model, HBX has developed an online platform that leverages the HBS ‘case-based pedagogy’ and audio-visual and interaction tools to make learning engaging.

HBX courses are rarely taught through theory. Instead, students learn through real-world problem-solving. Students start by grappling with a business problem – with real world data and the complexity in which a business leader would have to make a decision – and learn the theory inductively. Thus even as mathematical theories are applied to business situations, students come away with a greater sense of clarity and perspective, whether it is reading a financial report, understanding why a brand’s approach to a random sample population study may or may not work, or how pricing works.

HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program
HBX Platform | Courses offered in the HBX CORe program

“Learning about concepts through real-life cases was my favorite part of the program. The cases really helped transform abstract concepts into observable situations one could learn from. Furthermore, it really helped me understand how to identify situations in which I could use the tools that HBX equipped me with,” says Anindita Ravikumar, a past HBX participant. India’s premier B-school IIM-Ahmedabad has borrowed the very same pedagogy from Harvard. Learning in this manner is far more engaging, relatable, and memorable.

Most lessons start with a short 2-3 minute video of a manager talking about the business problem at hand. Students are then asked to respond on how they would handle the issue. Questions can be in the form of either a poll or reflections. Everyone’s answers are then visible to the ‘classroom’. In the words of Professor Bharat Anand, Faculty Chair, HBX, “This turns out to be a really important distinction. The answers are being updated in real-time. You can see the distribution of answers, but you can also see what any other individual has answered, which means that you’re not anonymous.” Students have real profiles and get to know their ‘classmates’ and learn from each other.

HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort
HBX Interface | Students can view profiles of other students in their cohort

Professor Anand also says, “We have what we call the three-minute rule. Roughly every three minutes, you are doing something different on the platform. Everyone is on the edge of their seats. Anyone could be called on to participate at any time. It’s a very lean forward mode of learning”. Students get ‘cold-called’ – a concept borrowed from the classroom – where every now and then individuals will be unexpectedly prompted to answer a question on the platform and their response will be shared with other members of the cohort. It keeps students engaged and encourages preparedness. While HBX courses are self-paced, participants are encouraged to get through a certain amount of content each week, which helps keep the cohort together and enables the social elements of the learning experience.

More than digital learning

The HBS campus experience is valued by alumni not just for the academic experience but also for the diverse network of peers they meet. HBX programs similarly encourage student interactions and opportunities for in-person networking. All HBXers who successfully complete their programs and are awarded a credential or certificate from HBX and Harvard Business School are invited to the annual on-campus HBX ConneXt event to meet peers from around the world, hear from faculty and business executives, and also experience the HBS campus near Cambridge.

HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand
HBXers at ConneXt, with Prof. Bharat Anand

Programs offered today

HBX offers a range of programs that appeal to different audiences.

To help college students and recent graduates prepare for the business world, HBX CORe (Credential of Readiness) integrates business essentials such as analytics, economics, and financial accounting. HBX CORe is also great for those interested in an MBA looking to strengthen their application and brush up their skills to be prepared for day one. For working professionals, HBX CORe and additional courses like Disruptive Strategy, Leading with Finance, and Negotiation Mastery, can help deepen understanding of essential business concepts in order to add value to their organizations and advance their careers.

Course durations range from 6 to 17 weeks depending on the program. All interested candidates must submit a free, 10-15 minute application that is reviewed by the HBX admissions team by the deadlines noted on the HBX website.

For more information, please review the HBX website.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of HBX and not by the Scroll editorial team.