Integrated Ecosystem Management for Healthy Landscapes and Healthy People by Govardhan Ecovillage
A Model Ecovillage Showcasing Fulfilment of Maximum SDGs in Sustainable Rural Communities (Food, Water, Waste Management and Energy)
Problem Statement: The UNDP states that more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas and by 2050 that figure will have risen to 6.5 billion people . Government struggle to accommodate the rising population  compromising SDG 1 (No Poverty) and SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and communities). A major cause for this is the rural urban migration of people. 
However, if people stay in villages then they are subjected to abject poverty. 83.3 million people live in over 650,000 villages in India. This compromises SDG 1 (No Poverty), 2 (Zero Hunger) and 3 (Good Health and Well-being).
Usage of chemicals and fertilizers with an aim for profitable agriculture compromises SDG 13 (Climate Action) and SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation). Lack of facilities in terms of youth education and jobs in the villages leads to compromising SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 8 (Decent Work).
By using our example in India, we attempt to resolve the dichotomy amongst various SDGs in LDC Countries by Integrated Ecosystem Management that facilitates a life which is socially, economically and ecologically in harmony.
1. Setting up a model Eco-village meeting the primary needs (food, housing, water, waste and energy).
2. Replicating the model in part to nearby tribal villages (in terms of food, water and social support initiatives)
3. Inspiring Eco-tourism at the Ecovillage and promiting Rural Development in nearby villages through the funds received or volunteering support of the visitors.
4. Setting up business models to make ecovillage self sustainable and setting up university of sustainability and rural livelihood
Is this proposal for a practice or a project?
What actions do you propose?
GEV is located in a rural area at the foot hills of the Sahyadris mountain ranges and lies between the hill Kohoj Gad and the river Vaitarna. In terms of agriculture, initially, paddy was grown in the valley areas. The valleys with black cotton soil also formed the drainage for the ainwater. These productive landscapes composed of rangelands, farms, fields, hill areas, freshwater bodies, wetlands, etc interact with agriculture, energy production, food security and water. Poor management of these will have a direct negative impact on all ecosystems through land degradation, pollution by agriculture run-off into the freshwater ecosystems, habitat conversions for expanded land use, disruption of hydrological cycles, water extraction, nutrient depletion, loss of biodiversity, loss of livelihoods etc. Due to this, GEV supports ecosystem-based interventions that integrate human health, gender equity, economic profitability, environmental health, biodiversity etc. GEV symbiotic model is supported by interventions of conservation agriculture, on-farm diversification, small-scale irrigation schemes, erosion control, and water harvesting, etc
The details are given below and similar approach can be adapted in places like Nepal and Bangladesh.
A) Setting up Green Technologies: GEV implemented a combination of time tested traditional techniques as well as indigenous innovations in green technologies.
1. Organic Farming
Govardhan Ecovillage has learnt and implemented successful and sustainable models comprising of indigenous and best practices which includes usage of organic fertilizers, organic pesticides and mulching process for removing weeds. All these ingredients are available locally at practically no cost or are produced by composting the wet animal waste and food waste or the dry waste produced in the community.
2. Green Housing
Made using an improvised mud brick technology, compressed stabilized mud blocks (CSEB). They are aesthetic and comfortable, and have minimal impact on the environment. Unlike the commonly used baked bricks these unfired bricks retain mud's natural property of maintaining optimum temperature. Thus buildings made with these bricks remain cool in hot weathers and warm in cool weathers, thus saving a lot of energy in heating and cooling systems. An entire structure made from these bricks has less than 1% the embodied energy as compared to their fired brick counterparts. This contributes towards SDG 11, 13.
GEV undertook a hydro-geological survey of the entire community. Based on that, a 1 crore litre water pond and few points of harvesting ground water discharge were established. The 1 Crore litre pond helps GEV to recharge ground water aquifers and provides water for irrigation for 5-6 months. GEV’s domestic demands are met by shallow unconfined basalt aquifer tapped by couple of dug wells while their efficient agricultural demand is met through regulated pumping of bore holes tapping the deeper confined aquifer system.
This contributes towards SDG 6, 13
4. Waste Management
GEV applies the symbiotic recycling process for waste management and processes various kinds of waste produced in the community. GEV is conscious that not any kind of waste could be handled by this natural system, for example highly toxic industrial effluents etc. So GEV simultaneously imbibed in the ecovillage, a culture of using compatible materials.
The wet wastes and cowdung produced in the community are processed by the Biogas plantsto give out digested slurry, which act as an organic fertilizer input to the farming system. The biogas thus produced is used in cooking thus generating savings on LPG bills. Thus a symbiosis between farming and cow barn systems was established.
The dry biodegradable wastes like foliage, paper etc. are processed by the various composting pits to produce compost for the farming system creating a symbiosis between community living and farming.
Construction wastes like broken cement poles and bricks are utilized in making permanent raised beds (PRB) for farming. The entire boundary of the PRB is made by construction wastes like cement poles and bricks, creating a symbiosis between farming and construction systems.
The human waste/ sewage produced is processed using the Soil Biotechnology plant (SBT).  In this system combined grey water and black water streams are collected and transported via gravity driven underground sewerage network up to the raw water storage tanks. Raw sewage is then pumped and distributed over the SBT bioreactor through a network of pipes. The bioreactor is an impervious containment that incorporates soil, formulated granular filter media, select culture of macro organisms such as earthworms and plants that creates the right ecosystem for the waste processing. The entire process operates in aerobic mode, thus eliminating the possibility of foul odour. SBT removes BOD, COD, ammonia nitrogen, nitrate nitrogen, suspended solids, bacteria, color, odor . The final treated water is recycled by using in the farming and horticulture.
5. Alternative Energy
GEV inhouses a 30 cubic meter Bio gas plant which processes the food waste and cow dung to produce biogas which is used for cooking. GEV also has a 100 kW solar power plant which minimizes its dependence on fossil fuel based power sources. It is in the process of installing 150 kW of solar energy more so that the overall energy need of the community can be taken care by solar energy itself. GEV also houses various animal driven prime movers (ADPMs) . All this contributes towards SDG 7, 13.
B) GEV's rural development program began in 2009 by first doing a base line survey of the villages to identify their needs. GEV worked with BIAF organization for learning aspects of the rural development in the first year and then from second year onwards started working independently. The effort began with supporting just 5 families in a village by providing livelihood and today it has reached out to over 1100 farmers in over 50 villages.
The following map shows some of those villages
Vada villages map.
GEV Wadi Participants Status - Green Region
GEV educates and facilitates farmers in doing integrated farming system which comprises of horticulture, agriculture and floriculture practices. The farmers are encouraged to grow one or more species of fruit trees with food grains, vegetables and flowers in the spaces between the fruit trees. And along the boundary of the plots a large number of multi-purpose trees are planted. While the grains, vegetables and flowers fetch short term income, the fruit trees are expected to provide assured income every year once they are grown up. This kind of poly-culture farming system as taught by GEV, facilitates bio-diversity and ensures that even if the short term plants hamper, the farmer will continue to have constant income through the fruit trees. Many farmers earned more income this way than by migrating to cities and working as laborers.
Owing to increased income, the farmers are inspired to stay with in the village itself and hence GEV is able to organize other initiatives for ensuring overall health of these tribal villagers. Women are organized through formation of self-help groups and training is given to them in developing skills, health and hygiene, fund management and bank account opening, marketing linkages, providing equipments, linkage with government schemes etc. Families are encouraged to grow vegetables in Kitchen Garden which utilize waste water from showers and kitchen to grow vegetables. This encourages families to regularly eat fresh vegetables.
GEV volunteers also help in rural education in village schools. Various initiatives in this regard are teachers training program for local village women, Science on wheel program for educating school children, Science exhibitions, Health awareness camps, coaching classes for schools children, yoga camps, environment education, career guidance programs etc. This contributes towards SDG 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 12, 13, 15
C) Promoting buy in and sustainability of the Ecovillage: Certain innovative feasible measures or mechanisms can be implemented which are given below based on experience of Govardhan Ecovillage project
1. Financial Innovation:
One of the major problems faced by farmers is poor market linkages whereby the farmers do not earn sufficient income from their produce either from farm or livestock. Setting up a system of proper value chain without involvement of intermediaries could boost their income and morale to live happily in the villages.
A Limited Liability Company can be set up by the Ecovillage where in the company purchases milk from the farmers directly and sell it in the cities. The scale of the operation can be increased after a period of 1-2 years depending on the demand. Similarly a consumer products industry could be set up where in the company purchases grains from the farmers, processes it, packages it and then sell it in the market.
This innovative business model is very feasible and has been tried and tested by the volunteers of GEV who have established a company, Haribol Inc. (https://hari-bol.com/). The process involves setting up collection centers in the village managed by a villager and the farmers can bring milk there. At the collection center, the milk could be checked for its FAT and SNF content (This will avoid adulteration) and farmers paid as per that. The milk is then put in the bulk milk cooler which bring the temperature of the milk from normal to 3-4 degree Celsius. After that it is taken in an insulated tanker and brought to the fulfilment centre in the city where it is pasteurised and packed in glass bottles and distributed. The model has been in operation since over 7-8 years and has scaled up to distribution of 3000 litres of milk supply from over 5-6 villages. It has also attracted private investors who have purchased around 50% of equity in the business and are supporting through their guidance. The next stage of this business model is generating hand churned ghee, flavoured milk and butter milk with the help of tribal women around GEV thus generating employment for them as well
Furthermore, GEV has established a consumer goods industry https://safebasket.in/ under the same brand Haribol. The GEV being FBO is operated under the guidance of monks and spiritual principles and hence encourages purity and creates trust in the hearts of our consumers. This has also attracted the interested of the some of the major retailers of the country who have agreed to take it on to the next level by purchasing a major portion of equity in the company.
2. Educational Innovation:
Setting up a School of Sustainability which can actively educate the sustainability and circular economy model being practised locally. The school can create certain residential programs for university students which in turn not only educate the students but also generate substantial revenue and volunteers support for the initiatives of the Ecovillage.
This model is also very feasible and GEV has established a Govardhan School of Sustainability (GSOS) and has tied up with some of the top international universities in the world like Princeton University, Indiana University, Notre Dam University etc. (https://www.ecovillage.org.in/sustainability/) GSOS offers residential programs like The Study Abroad Program (SAP), India Cultural and Ecology Immersion Program (ICEI), India Cultural Immersion Program (ICIP) and Transformation of Hearts (TOH) Program. GEV is also in the process of setting up University of Sustainability and Rural Livelihood in affiliation with the Mumbai University, Government of Maharashtra, India. This will further give GEV the credibility to offer credit based courses in sustainability to the oversees students who can they stay in Ecovillage for an entire semester and do research projects on various sustainability projects.
Who will take these actions?
There are certain critical factors to be considered in replication of the GEV model in LDCs. One of them is that the success of Govardhan ecovillage was due to the strong determination of the leadership and along with that an equally determined team to implement the vision of the project.
Govardhan Ecovillage (GEV) is a branch of the faith-based organization “International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)” which has many branches including in Nepal and Bangladesh. The theological basis of ISKCON lies in Gaudiya Vaishnavism which is both an Earth-honoring faith and a tradition that deeply strives to live up to the ecological integrity prescribed in its fundamental teachings and praxis. To get the buy in of the local leadership to implement this proposal would be fully possible in this case as this is one of the main objectives of the ISKCON organization. Following this the manpower to support the project can be managed from the local community of ISKCON temple. Raising funds to get land, to set up green technologies and doing rural development might be difficult as the local congregation in those places may not be like what he had here in India. However, using the GEV project as a model, investors and donors can be convinced to invest funds in building this project atleast in initial stages.
Another critical factor is to get in the buy in of the indigenous groups. They respect nature but hesitate to accept scientific advancements due to the conception of it exploiting nature. In case of GEV, the execution team comprised of monks and other community members practicing spirituality. The indigenous groups could easily trust them and accord them with high respect due to the similarity in faith concept with respect to nature. Hence, in the rural development program, the monks spearheaded the outreach to the tribal families and also provided training in the various components of the model. Same approach can lead to success in Nepal and Bangladesh as well.
Also the GEV team comprises of highly educated monks who were graduates in Metallurgical Engineering, Ceramic Engineering, Physics, etc. With such an intellectual expertise, the circular economy concept of GEV could established. Over a period of time, the GEV team has developed various courses on different phases of creating an ecovillage model and are in a position to train people. Furthermore, they can also visit the places and can guide in an advisory capacity for the smooth progress of the project in the local area.
GEV team had also mobilized various stakeholders to support the model as shown below. Similar approach could be adopted in those places:
Where will these actions be taken?
The idea is to replicate the Symbiotic Recycling Model of GEV and its Rural Development programme in as many villages in LDC countries.
To begin with, the GEV proposal can be replicated in Nepal, Bangladesh, and others. In Nepal, the concept could be replicated in the Rupandehi District. Rupandehi is one of the second most populated districts with the Tharu people. Tharu is a marginalized indigenous group that relies solely on agriculture for their livelihood. The Local Municipal Government of Tilottama has given a piece of land to the Nepal branch of ISKCON to aid the government with cow protection. Replicating the GEV symbiotic model components to this track of land, will assist in cow protection, establishing a healthy ecosystem and also give the Tharus’ a decent livelihood by engaging them in Organic Farming.
Similarly for Bangladesh, almost 63% of population lives in villages and depends on agriculture. ISKCON temple is located in Dhaka and Sylhet and efforts can begin by taking on certain initiatives in and around villages in those areas.
The efforts have to begin in these places by first doing a baseline survey to identify the problems and creating a rural development along those lines
In addition, specify the country or countries where these actions will be taken.
No country selected
No country selected
No country selected
What impact will these actions have on greenhouse gas emissions and/or adapting to climate change?
Based on our experience at GEV project, the green technologies at GEV and its rural development initiatives in villages lead to substantial reduction in green house gas emissions and adaptation to climate change. Similar results can be expected wherever these principles are implemented
Annual reduction in emissions of greenhouse gas due to Rain water harvesting pond of 10 million litres is 8.7 tonnes, SBT of 120 kL is 97.16 tonnes, Bio gas plant of 30 cubic meter is 25.56 tonnes, Solar power plant of 250 kW is 300 tonnes. The nursery at GEV planted 150,000+ trees in cities mitigating 3000+ tons of CO2. Green Buildings with 5 lakhs CSEB blocks over 1 lakh square feet saves embodied energy of around 90,75,000 MJ compared to bricks. Besides this the organic farming practices spanning over an area of 1100+ acres in nearby 50 tribal villages have planted more than 131,000 fruit, forestry and flower trees leading to a mitigation of atleast 2620 tons of carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere. Also all these farmers are practicing organic farming growing thousands of saplings every year. Pyrolysis plant at GEV process 36 tons plastics daily, converts into light diesel oil (LDO)
GEV installed/ repaired over 48 new borewells, 125 small wells, 8 lift schemes, 25 farm ponds, 13 check dams etc. for drinking and irrigation in over 30 villages thus giving the ability to farmers to sustain during non-rainy seasons
What are other key benefits?
The overall impact of a project like GEV goes multi-fold and has various benefits as per our experience. Some of them are as follows:
Rural Development initiatives
- 1100 families from 50 villages took to Wadi Organic farming - increased annual income by 30-35%.
- Microenterprises for 250 landless laborers increased daily income by 50%.
- 2000 women formed 200 self-help groups in 50 villages - increased annual income by 45 – 50%
- Over 1000 sessions conducted in 50 schools for science and maths, value-based community education etc. benefitting 8700 students
- Skill development initiatives trained 35 tribal youths in last 1 year - placed 80% candidates.
- Over 6000 farmers got educated in organic farming
- Water resource development leading to 850+ lift irrigation beneficiaries, 5500+ drinking water beneficiaries and 1050+ customised irrigation beneficiaries
- Rural Education initiatives benefited over 8700+ students in over 50 schools
- Over 1800+ health camps conducted and 88500+ patients were treated
- Over 15,000 visitors come to GEV annually to learn about sustainability
- Organizing conferences leading to spreading the message of sustainable development and circular economy through educating people directly or through wide coverage in media and press releases
- Getting accredited to international bodies and receiving awards thus getting a platform to present principles of sustainability to a wider audience
What are the proposal’s projected costs?
Govardhan Ecovillage in its initial stages began with setting up the green technologies in the campus, a small retreat centre consisting of few green buildings and reaching out to few villagers in the nearby tribal villages. In a similar fashion, the implementation can begin on a small scale and their costing based on our experience could be as follows:
Many of the above initiatives may fall under the CSR category of companies and funds can be raised for them. Furthermore, like in India, Government may support partly or fully setting up some of the above initiative under their schemes of renewable energy.
The Rural Development initiative by GEV began in collaboration with an agency called as BIAF and focussed only on 5 farmers to begin with and gradually it increased. Similarly the rural initiatives in LDCs may begin with the support of GEV in nearby villages. A brief on the cost estimates based on our experience in India is given below:
All the above rural development initiatives can be funded through the CSR initiatives of the corporates. The Rural Education project could primarily be run by the volunteers.
In regards to setting up a small retreat centre in the Ecovillage for hosting visitors on sustainability tours, some cost could be involved depending on how big and small and how many number of rooms are needed.
Some of the challenges that could be faced are as follows:
1. Buy-in from the leadership:
The leadership team should be convinced about the significance of this project and then only it will percolate amongst the next level of volunteers and employees.
2. Hesitation to invest in new technologies:
There could be hesitation to invest just like in GEV initially there was hesitation amongst some of the board members. However, on discussion with the experts and studying other places, we came to the conclusion to invest.
3. Community co-operation
A major challenge was winning the trust of the villagers and making them realize genuine nature of our work. Building relationship takes time.
4. To maintain interest levels of the farmers:
Some village families encounter various obstacles while implementing the sustainability principles and therefore require additional support. This included forest fires, water shortage at the peak summer, poor health of farmer, pest and disease attack, destruction by animals and other people. This need to be incorporated into the project strategy and based on individual family challenges, and the necessary intervention should be provided such as Water Resource Development (small wells, lift irrigation etc), provision of saplings, vegetable seeds, etc. Follow-up meetings could also be conducted on the progress of the village participants
In due course of time, in order to expand, funds are needed on a regular basis. Hence raising funds, donations and establishing a sustainable business model could become a challenge.
Short - Term
Enhanced awareness and knowledge of climate change impacts and the functions of ecosystems among local communities. During this period, approximately 5-10 years goes in developing proper connections with the local community and trying out suitable rural development models which are workable in the local conditions. The impact could reach up to 50 – 75 villages benefitting thousands of families in offering them sustainable livelihood through the year.
This period also contains setting up of the green technologies in the Ecovillage which inturn creates a platform to educate thousands of people from all over the world to get educated in the principles of sustainability.
Enhanced climate resilience of selected rural communities through the implementation of climate-resilient agricultural interventions and diversification of livelihoods. In this period, there could be exponential growth in terms of scaling the project and there could also be opportunities for replicating other places. During the short term period, a successful rural development model evolves which gives faith to the corporates to invest money in the project.
Furthermore, this is also the period during which new business innovations can be tried and tested which can further pour in money for replication and scaling of project. Overall impact can cover an entire district of over 1000 villages
Improved ecosystem management to reduce the negative effects of climate change on the rural communities. In the long term, due to consistent practise of sustainability principles the eco system can come back to its original form with highly fertile soil, river water free of pollution, clean air etc. The impact could cover various branches of the project all over the world benefitting lakhs of villages.
About the author(s)
Gauranga Das is a monk and the Director of Govardhan Ecovillage Strategy, Communications and Collaborations in Wada (India). He has a Graduate degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Mumbai. Taking the vision and guidance from the Founder Radhanath Swami (a guide for several social development projects including GEV), he along with his team implemented sustainable initiatives at Govardhan ecovillage combining the technology of modern science along with the ancient Vedic wisdom to provide a truly sustainable solution to the current ecological crisis. Govardhan Ecovillage was set up showcasing an entrepreneurial vision and its widescale applicability of “Symbiotic Recycling” in rural and semi-urban areas as a response to the ecological conundrums. This model emerged successful in integrating various individual systems comprising of organic farming, cow-barn, biogas plants, composting units and green constructions. These integration facilitates (recycling or reusing of waste) from one system into other, overturned the costs of waste management into significant savings. As a result, GEV won more than 31 awards in last 6 years including the India Energy Globe Award 2019, Green Village Platinum ratings by Indian Green Building Council, International Green World Award in Symbiotic Recycling etc. He also led India to win the United Nations Award for Excellence and Innovation in Sustainable Tourism by presenting GEV’s case study of “Ecotourism as a catalyst for Rural Development” at Spain. He received the title of IGBC Fellow from the Indian Green Building Council for his outstanding contribution to the green building movement in India. He is also the brand Ambassador for the water campaign, “I Save Water Mission” of Indian Plumbing Association. He is also involved in facilitating transformation in the lives of tribal villagers through various social and economic interventions.
1. Popular choice winner proposal, Generation of Biogas energy from animal waste for use in rural areas-we modified our biogas plant in order for it to operate on both animal and food wastes. In order to process the food waste, we made necessary modifications to the existing biogas plant so that it could generate about 60-70 cu.m of biogas with the existing set up.
2. Climate-Smart Agriculture-sustainable agricultural practices were disseminated to the indigenous people. GEV innovation to this is our Raised Bed technique that has received recognition from independent bodies. Recognising this effort, Krishi sutra survey conducted by the Small Farmers AgriBusiness Consortium listed GEV as one of the top 100 agriculture innovators in India, for extensively using this technique.
3. Green Buildings: Way forward in reducing emissions from buildings- GEV incorporated this proposal in meeting the definition of apt green buildings. GEV used Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB) which consume less amount of energy as opposed to the modern day bricks used in construction.
4. Green Loop: Effective Platform to address Indian cities' municipal waste...-The byproduct of wastewater treatment was utilized as compost as per the proposal. The innovation by GEV was that 100 % of treated water is being reused in horticulture.
5. Best Adaptation to Water Scarcity caused by Climate Change in Himalayan ...-The concept of recharge and discharge was GEV's game changer after incorporating the proposal.
Sustainable Production and Consumption is the most efficient strategy to avoid trade-offs among SDGs and address pollution drivers. Circular economy is one of the concepts to operationalize it in practice. GEVs Symbiotic Recycling Model integrates all pillars of sustainability by including past proposals but also includes its unique inventions to form a rural circular economy.
 UNDP Sustainable Development Goal 11
 Smog in South Asia
 Jonathan Kennedy and Lawrence King, “The political economy of farmers’ suicides in India: indebted cash-crop farmers with marginal landholdings explain state-level variation in suicide rates” Globalization and Health 2014 10:16
 Maharashtra State Adaptation Action Plan on Climate Change (MSAAPC),http://envfor.nic.in/ccd-sapcc
 Holling, C.S., "Resilience and stability of ecological systems," Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4: 1–23, 1973
 Pattanaik., B.R., Processing of Wastewater in Soil Filters, Ph.D. Dissertation, Dept of Chemical Engg., IIT Bombay, 2000
 Carbon dioxide mitigation through solar power plants
 How would you feel if we told you that you could offset the carbon emissions of your entire life by planting trees?