Just before last winter I had the opportunity to travel up to a project I had been involved with in the Indian Himalayas. Essentially this particular project was focused on watershed protection to ensure access to water for villages. Partly it was about ensuring some resilience in the face of the likely impacts of climate change, partly it was about building livelihood options in particular for women.
One of the things the project focused on was the use of energy – for cooking especially. For many, cooking is done using firewood, which is collected by women. This puts pressure on fragile ecosystems (as wood is collected, or trees are cut) and also on the women themselves – they carry firewood on their heads (pressure on their bodies), it takes a lot of time (time pressure on the other roles women play, especially given that so many men in the area have had to leave in search of daily wage labour), pressure on their safety (carrying heavy loads of wood along narrow mountainous paths).
So one of the things the project focused on was the production of bio-gas for households. The technology essentially uses cattle dung to create gas which is used for cooking. This in turn means less firewood is needed and lot’s of the pressures mentioned above begin to get relieved. There are of course lot’s of issues around costs, maintenance of the unit etc.
I was interviewing some of the women in one of the women’s groups about how things were different now with the bio-gas. Of course they identified the things you’d expect – feeling healthier, feeling safer, noticing the change in the ecosystems (in just under twelve months).
But they also highlighted the impact of this on their time. They now had spare time. So I asked them what they were doing with this spare time and this is what they are now doing:
- handcrafts to sell at markets (diversifying their local economic base and income)
- education (raising literacy and numeracy)
- learning new skills such as book-keeping
- investing in visits by health professionals
- supporting their school
- looking at the kinds of economic activities required to keep their children in the village for longer rather than have them forced to leave in search of employment.
Bearing in mind that all these activities have been implemented through the women’s groups (that is, a collective) it’s a very good reminder of the importance of cooperation. And it’s also a good reminder of how simple, small changes can actually have big impacts…