G Nandakumar is a young farmer in Diguvapalem, a remote hamlet and a chronically drought-prone area in southern Andhra. In 2019, I met him on a school hiking trip, as part of our Geography classes. 'Nandu,' fondly addressed as so, was keen to upgrade his village by pursing some sustainable environmental practices, like organic farming. However, he lacked the resources to execute his vision. So, as a young student, I was very inspired by his ideas and wanted to help.
I visited Diguvapalem regularly over a few months and developed a good relationship with him and the other village residents. The first project that I supported him with was about funding a nursery, where he could grow native trees from the seeds that he collected while trekking in the neighbouring area. Every monsoon, he planted their saplings in the surrounding hills to reforest and to help renew the watertable of the region. The next project I assisted him with was about funding and constructing a Learning Center for children. Its building was based on traditional architecture and used local construction materials like, eucalyptus, bamboo, lemongrass, and jamun. This centre was used for doing afterschool activities like art and craft, cooking, and movie screening.
After these initial projects, I decided to focus on the issue of sanitation because, I was surprised to know that the entire village had only one toilet! So, together with my classmate, Srivar Janna Reddy, I researched about some water-conserving and cost-efficient toilets. We discussed our findings with our teachers, and after their feedback, we contacted Shubhra Biotech, one of the leading biotoilet manufacturers in our country. They gave us a total cost estimate of Rs. 2,27,539 for installing one toilet, one biodigester system that can support three additional toilets in future, and the related construction costs. So, Srivar and I set-up an online fundraiser and received donations from our friends, family, and well-wishers.
This biotoilet used an innovative mechanism to convert blackwater (including urine, faecal matter, and chemicals; not useable for any purpose) from the toilet to greywater (including dust, oil, dirt, etc. but not pathogens; useable for non-potable puposes). In the biotoilet, the blackwater is passed through a biodigester, where it is broken down by microbes. This bacterial culture, used by Shubhra Biotech, was licensed from the Defence Research and Development Organisation. Then the water from the biodigester was passed through a reed bed, comprising layers of gravel, sand, and aquatic plants. The greywater received in the end was used to irrigate a nearby orchard. I am glad that the toilet has been in use since 2021. Rural India significantly lacks facilities for both water and toilets, and biotoilets can be a panacea for these issues.