As part of a three-year initiative, Airbus volunteers travelled to three villages in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu in collaboration with the Centre for Tribal and Rural Development (a local NGO) and Raleigh International. During these expeditions, Airbus employees helped to build 35 biogas plants. The initiative was part of the Airbus Foundation’s biodiversity programme, through which the foundation funded schools and youth groups to implement local biodiversity conservation projects near European Airbus sites.
The biogas plants were installed outside the villagers’ houses – about a dozen families – and later connected to the simple stoves through a gas pipe in the wall. The plants are providing four hours of methane gas for cooking every day. Generated from cow manure, the gas is rich in methane and is used in rural areas in India to provide a renewable and stable source of energy.
Almost 1,000 Airbus employees applied to be part of this initiative and 96 had the chance to participate in the project. The volunteers worked and lived in the most basic conditions while constructing the biogas plants and were warmly welcomed by the locals. They stayed in tents opposite the villagers’ houses. The employees worked from sunrise to sunset daily building and installing the biogas plants. To this end, they dug the holes for the equipment, cemented, built cowsheds and more.
The Airbus initiative was in support of the Indian Ministry of Environment & Forest’s plan, which targets the setting up of nearly 650,000 family-sized biogas plants throughout India. The villagers traditionally belong to tribal forest gathering communities, living in an area with more than 200 types of rainforest trees. Before the construction of the biogas plant, trees were being cut for burning; by the end of 2011, wood consumption had been reduced by 120 tonnes and CO2 by 216 tonnes benefitting the local fragile ecosystem.
The experience created a strong bond among the Airbus volunteers and the villagers, with spontaneous football and cricket games being played after work.
Furthermore, the families are now generating income over €130 a month – before, their earnings were around 20 cents a day – from the sale of the cow’s milk, manure and local vegetables in the local markets.
In addition, the women are setting up bank accounts for the first time, due to the increase of household incomes and assets.
The Airbus volunteers also went to a local school to explain the project and promote biodiversity awareness. The programme also provided positive social, economic and environment effects for the benefit of the Indian communities. The health of the households has improved as the women no longer spend hours in the forest collecting firewood and do not breathe in soot from the walls of their homes. Women were never considered economic partners in these tribal societies, and are now re seen by the men as real financial managers; they have a new, empowered status.