A 29-year-old Indian entrepreneur is among the seven winners of the prestigious “Young Champions of the Earth” 2020 prize given by the UN environment agency to global change-makers using innovative ideas and ambitious action to help solve some of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges.
Vidyut Mohan, an engineer, is the co-founder of “Takachar”, a social enterprise enabling farmers to prevent open burning of their waste farm residues and earn extra income by converting them into value-added chemicals like activated carbon on-site, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a statement on Tuesday.
“I’ve always been passionate about energy access and creating income opportunities for poor communities”, Mohan was quoted as saying in the statement. “(That) is at the heart of finding answers to the difficult question of balancing economic growth and climate change mitigation in developing countries”, he said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a message that in the middle of a global pandemic, with societies struggling, economies stretched to their limits and an escalating biodiversity and climate crisis, “we need to act boldly and urgently to repair our relationship with nature and take the path of sustainable development”.
He said that the Young Champions of the Earth “inspire and mobilise”.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen said globally, young people are leading the way in calling for meaningful and immediate solutions to the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
“We must listen. As we enter this decisive decade where we work to cut emissions and protect and restore ecosystems, UNEP Young Champions demonstrate that all of us can contribute, starting where we are with what we have. Every single act for nature counts, and we need the entire spectrum of humanity to share this global responsibility and this profound opportunity”, Andersen said.
Takachar buys rice husks, straw and coconut shells from farmers and turns them into charcoal, saving the debris from the fires, which are also a driver of climate change. Since Takachar was launched in 2018, Mohan and its co-founder Kevin Kung have worked with about 4,500 farmers and processed 3,000 tonnes of crops, UNEP said.
Mark Radka, chief of the energy and climate branch at UNEP’s Economy Division, said the open burning of agricultural residues is a big source of air pollution in many parts of the world and “Takachar’s innovative technology can help farmers turn what is currently thought of as waste into a valuable resource while helping clean up our environment.”
“Slowly and gradually all funding streams available and support services are turning towards sustainability. Companies are going to lose if they don’t become sustainable in the long run”, Mohan, a 2019 Echoing Green Fellow and a 2020 Forbes 30 Under 30 awardee, said.
By deploying small-scale, low-cost portable biomass upgrading equipment, Takachar enables rural farmers to earn 40 per cent more by converting their crop residues into fuels, fertilisers and value-added chemicals like activated carbon (AC) on-site.
By choosing activated carbon (AC) as the starting market, Takachar brings this value chain to the doorstep of farmers and hence reduces air pollution associated with crop residue burning, while ensuring a stable, renewable, pollution free and financially lucrative raw material supply for the AC industry vs. Traditional fossil based sources.
By 2030, Takachar will impact 300 million farmers affected by this problem, create USD 4 billion/year equivalent in additional rural income and jobs, and mitigate one gigaton/year of CO2 equivalent, UNEP added.
This year’s Young Champions were selected by a global jury of experts following a competitive public nomination. Each will receive USD 10,000 in seed funding and tailored training to help scale up their ideas. The Young Champions of the Earth prize is awarded every year to seven entrepreneurs under the age of 30 with bold ideas for sustainable environmental change.
The other awardees are 29-year-old Nzambi Matee from Kenya, a materials engineer and head of Gjenge Makers, which produces sustainable low-cost construction materials made of recycled plastic waste and sand; 29-year old Xiaoyuan Ren from China who leads MyH2O, a data platform that tests and records the quality of groundwater across a thousand villages in rural China into an app so residents know where to find clean water.
Lefteris Arapakis, 26, from Greece founded the start-up Enaleia, through which the team trains, empowers and incentivises the local fishing community to collect plastic from the sea, allowing both fish stocks and the ecosystem to recover; 30-year old Max Hidalgo Quinto from Peru founded Yawa, building portable wind turbines that harvest up to 300 litres of water per day from atmospheric humidity and mist.
Niria Alicia Garcia, 28, from the US coordinates – alongside a community of indigenous activists – the annual Run 4 Salmon event using virtual reality to bring to life the historical journey of the Sacramento chinook salmon along California’s largest watershed, raising awareness of this invaluable ecosystem, the species and people it supports; 24-year old Fatemah Alzelzela from Kuwait started Eco Star, a non-profit recycling initiative that exchanges trees and plants for waste from homes, schools and businesses in Kuwait.