Indian Students Win a Global Prize for Innovative Project to Improve the Livelihood of Indian Farmers

Souryadeep Basak and Lavkesh Balchandani of TERI School of Advanced Studies designed a community level solar-powered hydroponic fodder unit for rural areas.

On Monday, students from India beat teams from around the world to win bronze in the Grand Final of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. Delivered by Efficiency for Access with the support of Engineers Without Borders UK, the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge is a global, multi-disciplinary competition that empowers teams of university students to help accelerate clean energy access. It is funded by UK aid and the IKEA Foundation.

Now in its second year, the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge enables students to create affordable and energy-efficient appliances and technologies for low to middle income countries. By inspiring students, the Challenge aims to foster innovation in the off-grid appliance sector. The competition also seeks to improve the job prospects of participating students by giving them experience in designing appliances.

Around 60% of India’s population relies on agriculture for their livelihood. However, while the country boasts the world’s biggest livestock population, Indian farmers depend on income from crops. Many smallholder farmers living in rural areas cannot afford to feed their livestock and their animals have nutritional deficiencies.

To help tackle this, Souryadeep Basak and Lavkesh Balchandani of TERI School of Advanced Studies designed a community level solar-powered hydroponic fodder unit for rural areas. The design uses the hydroponic method to grow green fodder quickly, which can help increase crop yields by sixfold compared to traditional approaches. This method is soilless, requires up to 95% less water than conventional fodder production, and takes up less space, as it is vertical. This could help boost livestock productivity and income generation for smallholder farmers.

Ken O’Flaherty, the UK’s COP26 Regional Ambassador to Asia-Pacific and South Asia, said:

“Climate change and its impacts are already having a devastating effect around the world. Innovation and technology is key to tackling this global crisis, so I’m inspired to see the innovative ideas put forward by students to improve global access to clean energy.

“The UK will use our COP26 Presidency to drive global change and help vulnerable communities to access clean energy and build resilience to climate impacts. Ideas like these are invaluable in building a greener, more sustainable and more inclusive world.”

Year two of the Challenge began in September 2020 with students from 21 universities in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Nepal, Sweden, Uganda and the UK participating. Students submitted their projects in April 2021 and presented their projects online to a panel of expert judges in late May. Participating universities were City, University of London, Green University of Bangladesh, Gulu University, Harper Adams University, Independent University, Bangladesh, Jomo Kenyatta University, Kathmandu University, London South Bank University, Loughborough University, Lund University, Makerere University, Mekelle University, Moi University, Swansea University, TERI School of Advanced Studies, Tribhuvan University, UCL, University of Bath, University of Bristol, University of Nairobi, and University of Strathclyde.

At Monday’s Grand Final event, student teams were awarded gold, silver and bronze prizes in an award ceremony held online.

Jeffrey Prins, Head of Renewable Energy Portfolio, IKEA Foundation said:

“Tackling climate change is no mean feat. Reducing carbon emissions requires everyone to join forces and take action, small and big. It requires new ideas, innovations and behavior change. A sustainable future is one enabled by renewable energy. The IKEA Foundation is proud to support the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, as it is an important and effective way to work together with innovators and talents to make renewable energy more accessible to many communities more quickly, reducing carbon emissions.”

Throughout the year, the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge team ran webinars, networking and interactive events for students, which aimed to enhance their understanding of the off-grid appliance sector. Student teams were also paired with mentors who provided them with structured guidance to create their projects.

Emma Crichton, Head of Engineering, Engineers Without Borders UK, said:

“In the second year of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, we’ve been incredibly inspired by the students’ determination, creativity and approach. Even with the disruption caused by the pandemic, the ideas the students have produced have been truly excellent. As a result, many are graduating this year with real-world experience and future-fit skills, including a creative ability that will aid progress towards meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Congratulations to the award-winning teams and all the students who took part in the competition.”

The Grand Final event this week showcased participating teams’ innovations to an audience of 150 representatives from aid agencies and foundations, private sector representatives, academics and the broader civil society. In the following months, Efficiency for Access will disseminate students’ projects through digital and social media channels and at various events.

Mike Thornton, Chief Executive, Energy Saving Trust said:

“It is encouraging to see such innovative and inspiring entries to the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge. I offer my congratulations to the winning teams who demonstrate an outstanding ability to tackle the climate emergency through exceptional and inventive designs.

Through ideas like those presented today, we both address the mission of reducing global carbon emissions in the race to net zero and affirm our continuing commitment to providing access to renewable energy and efficient appliances in Global South countries.”

With 770 million people lacking access to electricity and appliances, that will support their efforts to earn a living and maintain agricultural productivity, the development of affordable and energy-efficient solar-powered technologies can also help accelerate the clean energy transition and help vulnerable communities around the world, address the effects of climate change.

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