The lemongrass distillation project was initiated by the Amrita University as a part of the SeRVe (Self-Reliant Villages) program. This program aims to help small rural villages become self-reliant by setting up income-generating activities.
The village of Valaramkunnu lies in the Wayanad district of Kerala. It consists of three tribes, including around 75 families. The men mainly work on the fields and women take care of the household. There are schools in the area but only half of the children go to school. Obviously the future of the village is not looking very bright at the moment. In order for the village to develop, they need help. This is where Amrita comes in: They have already provided the village with electricity, clean water and basic health care. These basic needs are a precondition for the community to develop itself. However, the villagers have no stable source of income. The men working on the fields are paid in daily wages, however they spend most of it on alcohol and tobacco. Often, they lose their job and are unemployed for several weeks until they find work on a different field. The production and selling of lemongrass oil could provide a sustainable solution to this problem. If the villagers of Valaramkunnu can earn their own money they are no longer dependent on the landowners of the nearby farms.
The idea is to distil lemongrass oil using a distillation unit that runs on solar power. This way the process is environmentally friendly and doesn’t rely on firewood anymore, which is more expensive and polluting. During our time in India, we will run experiments with the prototype for the distillation, which is already present and installed in the village. With the experimental results, we should be able to determine the ideal distillation conditions and process parameters that allow the highest efficiency and yield. This way, we can assure that there can be a high productivity and thus also more profit. Next to this, we will also already observe the business and management aspects, in order to make sure the business can run smoothly and end up being profitable.
However, before going to India and working on the project, it is of high importance to plan the project properly and do research in order to make sure the project can be successful. It is only sensible to go through with the project if it has been proven to be feasible. In order to determine this, we made several analyses surrounding our project and its context. First, we did a poverty & development analysis in order to determine the reasons behind the lower living standards of the region we are visiting. Then, an institutional analysis that gives an insight on how politics and economics work in India and how this affects its population and development. Third, a cultural analysis, in order to understand the differences between our own norms and those of the villagers. Fourth, we did a civil society analysis and finally, an innovation analysis.