Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Youth at the forefront of climate solutions


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The Young Unheard Voices for Action (YUVA) on Climate Change project is nurturing the next generation of climate leaders from the grassroots in eastern India. Ranjita Biswas reports

Picture a dynamic initiative where young innovators take the lead to develop ideas for creating positive change and building a sustainable future. This is the Young Unheard Voices for Action (YUVA) on Climate Change project, initiated by the U.S. Consulate General Kolkata which focuses on climate action on water bodies and linked ecosystems in two critically important South Asian biospheres: the transboundary delta system of the Sundarbans (India-Bangladesh) and the transboundary river system of Manas (India-Bhutan).

Implemented by the NGO, Prodigal’s Home, in collaboration with the BRIDGE, a Kolkata-based NGO, as its knowledge partner, and supported by the U.S. Consulate General Kolkata, the YUVA project aimed to undertake youth outreach and mentoring programs in India, Bhutan and Bangladesh.

The idea behind the project was to bring together the lived experiences of urban and rural communities with the out-of-the-box thinking of the youth. Together, they would create campaign and advocacy products as well as develop concrete ideas for interventions in these two biospheres.

“Youth are agents of change; they are also the ones inheriting this world along with the various issues that actions of past generations have resulted in,” says Prithviraj Nath, director of BRIDGE, who acted as the research director for the YUVA project. “More often than not, we get youth from more urban, cosmopolitan cities to ideate about climate change and the need for action. But somehow, ideas, voices and perspectives from the margins are often not heard. The ideas and solutions the participants came up with were grounded on real-life experiences.”

In 2023, the project started with a call for ideas targeting youth from Bangladesh, Bhutan and India. Out of the over 60 submitted ideas, 41 were initially selected to participate in mentoring sessions and workshops organised in the three countries. These mentoring sessions aimed to help the youth share and present their ideas to experts and seek guidance and input for improvement. The final conclave, held by the U.S. Consulate General Kolkata in January, 2024 at the International Kolkata Book Fair, featured a jury of mentors who selected the top ideas.

Nath feels that the mentoring program helped the participants solidify their ideas. “Experts and mentors from various areas, like climate activists and policy influencers, development partners, environment researchers and leaders, representatives from start-ups and the private sector selected the best ideas,” he says.

Going forward, these ideas will receive further mentoring and opportunities for pilot projects.

Two of the finalists were Shrabani Bera and Tapas Sardar, both from West Bengal.

Countering the water crisis

“Jibanamrita: A Complete Water Solution” is Bera’s brainchild. She lives in Naraharipur village in Sagardwip, a part of the Sundarbans, and is pursuing a master’s degree in social science through the Netaji Subhas Open University.

“We live surrounded by water,” Bera explains. “Cyclones, more frequent due to climate change, have left our area struggling with salinated water and a shortage of drinking water.” Cyclone Yaas in 2021 was particularly devastating. “So our proposal was to harvest rainwater for human use,” she says.

Bera has two other members in her team. She credits the YUVA ideas-sharing and subsequent mentoring programs for a key realisation: “With investment, we can turn our ideas into a sustainable business model for the long term. We didn’t know that before.” Bera’s model involves providing households with a basic structure, for a fee, to filter rainwater for drinking purposes.

Reviving old practices

Sardar has a vision to revive traditional eco-friendly methods of cultivating vegetables and fruits. His project, titled “Sujala: Climate Smart Agriculture,” emphasises the reintroduction of locally available fertilisers and water harvesting methods that farmers have followed for centuries, as a way of organic farming. “The excessive use of pesticides in the hope of getting a better yield is spoiling our soil quality,” Sardar observes. “Even the water in our traditional ponds is becoming unusable for farming.” He further notes that the unsustainable cost of commercial fertilizers has made many farmers move away from agriculture.

Observing these challenges, Sardar, who holds a master’s degree in social work and lives in Kultali, about 120 kilometers from Kolkata, decided to examine the farming practices of previous generations on his own land. His efforts yielded positive results, prompting him to persuade local farmers to follow his example. “We offer a package with ‘true to type’ vegetable seeds and natural fertilisers like cow dung and vermicompost,” he explains. “We also construct embankments to conserve water so that during the drought season, water is available.” Currently, approximately 250 farmers are collaborating with him on this initiative.

“The workshops and mentoring provided by the YUVA project have helped me transform my ideas into a business model for generating income,” Sardar says. “It has also given me the confidence that I am on the right path.”


Trans World Features

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