SR article

Context & Problem Analysis

Where in India are we going and why was this project initiated here? What struggles is the local community facing?

Valaramkunnu is a rural village consisting of three tribes (70 families, 300 habitants) that live high up in the hills of the Wayanad district in Kerala. The population used to make lemongrass oil for a living, using firewood as an energy source. Wayanad’s land is fertile, however the continued and indiscriminate exploitation of the natural resources point towards an imminent environmental crisis. [1]

This is why the government has banned the use of firewood, thus leaving the villagers no choice but to abandon the production of lemongrass oil and to seek jobs elsewhere.

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Location of Valaramkunnu. Left: Southwestern India. Right: Wayanad district

Based on a questionnaire, last year’s group made an analysis of the current situation in the village. [2] Most tribal villagers work on agricultural fields now. They have to walk for kilometres to the bottom of the hill for daily labour. Most of the men spend the money earned during the day on alcohol and tobacco before coming home, so women also have to work in order to generate enough income to provide for the whole family. In the end, none of the adults stay home to care for children and so most of them don’t go to school. 

Amrita has recognized these struggles and decided to adopt Valaramkunnu as a part of the Amrita SeRVe (Self-Reliant Village) program in 2014. This program has selected 101 rural villages in need and helps them become self-sustaining, while allowing local as well as international university students to get involved and gain experience through field work. And so Amrita has taken Valaramkunnu under its wing, providing it with electricity, tap water, education and health services. [3], [4] Thus the villagers are provided with all basic needs. The next step is setting up income-generating activities in order to make them self-reliant. The project aims to provide a new prototype for the distillation of lemongrass, using concentrated solar power. This would be beneficial since the tribals could work inside their own village without having to walk down the hill and work for daily wages while still having uncertainty about employment. The project hence presents a stable source of income. A lot of the other lemongrass oil businesses have also ceased to exist since the ban on deforestation. The competition that remains still uses firewood.





[2]     M. Richards, D. Muller, R. Komen (January 2016). Lemongrass Essential: final report International Etrepreneurship & Development, page 10 & pages 19-39