Indo-Dutch collaboration turns waste into worth

Burning of crop residues has become a serious problem leading to many social and environmental consequences. Women on Wings’ partner Grameena Vikas Kendram Society for Rural Development has launched a new initiative; Waste to Worth, an innovative program which strives to create a circular business model for paddy straw and other biomass-based upcycled products in India and the Netherlands. The objective of the program is to prevent the greenhouse gases emission caused by biomass burning while creating additional revenue for farmers.

Livelihood opportunity for farmers
Waste to Worth, initiated by the INDUS Forum (Indo-Dutch Sustainability Forum), brings together the Government of Andhra Pradesh, the Government of the Netherlands, and Grameena Vikas Kendram Society for Rural Development (GVK Society). The three parties have signed a Memorandum of Understanding intending to initiate and strengthen the establishment of agricultural biomass-based industries to generate regular income for peasant farmers and agriculture labour in rural Andhra Pradesh, support industrial development, and benefit over 200,000 families by 2030.

Global challenge
“An average of 15 billion kg of paddy straw is being generated in Andhra Pradesh every year, of which a large part is set on fire by farmers. Burning of paddy straw releases the greenhouse gases, air pollutants, particulate matter like elemental carbon and smoke that strongly impacts human health. Also, it leads to loss of nutrients and affects soil fertility,” said Aneel Kumar Ambavaram, Chief Functionary at GVK Society (picture second right), who represents the INDUS Forum in Andhra Pradesh. Paddy straw burning is detrimental; however, farmers see no practical and affordable solutions at their arm`s length. Farm mechanization such as the use of combined harvesters is further escalating the biomass burning issue. Excessive use of agrochemicals is another facet of the challenge since cattle do not prefer paddy straw with undue pesticides, leading to burning. Any solution to open field biomass burning should be owned by the communities and generate shared value.

Innovation and climate solution
Through the Waste to Worth program, pulping and manufacturing units will be established that use paddy straw and other agricultural biomass, such as coconut, banana and pulses as the raw material and upcycle these into innovative, circular, and sustainable panels, furniture, building materials, packaging and more. Large well-known global and domestic furniture brands and retailers have already expressed their interest in furniture made from paddy straw. Aneel explained: “The ambition is to establish ten processing hubs in different locations of Andhra Pradesh by 2030. The first processing hub to be established in East and West Godavari districts will aim to prevent emissions from more than 11,000 acres and fetch monetary value for 4,000 farming families.”

Collective efforts
GVK Society, with the support of the Government of Andhra Pradesh, is also going to set up an Experience Centre to carry out collaborative research with respected research institutes such as Central Pulp & Paper Research Institute (CPPRI) in India and Wageningen University in the Netherlands. “The Andhra Pradesh Government is providing initial grant funding and the Dutch businesses invest in the state to build the hubs. Support from our state government helps the Farmers Producer Company (FPC) in farmers’ mobilization, training and covering administrative costs for 5 years. After the grant period, the FPC will become self-sufficient. Additionally, GVK Society will establish an Experience Centre close to Visakhapatnam to anchor activities needed for the ambitious scaling plans like research on other biomass sources, innovation, quality check etc.” According to Aneel, Waste to Worth aims to increase farmers` income by 30-35%. As a consortium, the Indo-Dutch partners will explore opportunities to blend the Dutch designs and Indian handcrafts to produce and market panel-based products. A lot more will be possible to co-create around post-harvest residuals. Establishment of the proposed Experience Centre is pivotal to realise the collective goals of the consortium.

Women on Wings, GVK Society and Waste to Worth
Waste to Worth focuses mainly on women farmers and labour. Women on Wings supports GVK Society in developing the FPC`s business model, partnerships for the Experience Centre and strategic support to the core team of GVK Society to achieve operational excellence. GVK Society is very keen to stretch the areas of collaboration with Women on Wings to make Waste to Worth a global flagship initiative. Anita Joosten, one of Women on Wings’ experts, specifically worked on the financials of the Waste to Worth program.
“I can`t imagine GVK Society doing this big thing without Women on Wings on our back”, Aneel asserted.