How ProtoVillage at the heart of AP’s arid district inspires sustainable living

The Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh has always been a tough nut to crack for agriculturists with drought constantly staring upon this parched zone. Among the four districts of Kurnool, Kadapa, Chittoor and Anantapur, the latter has been worst affected by consecutive droughts. 
Anantapur district has been drought prone for more than a century, rainfall data shows. The situation has only worsened in the recent past: In 272.8 millimetre rainfall, about half of what it normally receives and the least in a century. 
To make sure that this district become ecologically sustainable, a former engineer came up with an idea to develop a ProtoVillage in the second dries district of India. Kalyan Akkipeddi, a 40-year-old, who had a lucrative job in the finance and marketing division at General Electric, quit his corporate job and travelled around India to understand the life of tribals and the simple joys of life. 
He arrived at a remote village called Tekulodu in Anantapur district. Kalyan initially chose to “intern” with a farmer family in Tekulodu and helped them increase their income from Rs. 7,000 a year to about Rs. 14,000 a month by putting scientific practices to work and tapping natural resources such as solar and wind power. 
However, in 2013, he bought a 12.5-acre plot of land a few kilometres from Tekulodu, on the forest fringe near his home town Hindupur, in the same district. This has evolved into what he named ProtoVillage is a role-model rural community being built for the villagers, by the villagers. “I envisioned this to be a centre for learning, practice, demonstration and dissemination of the knowledge on how any community in this region can organize itself to be resilient — ecologically sustainable, socially cohesive and economically viable,” says Kalyan Akkipeddi. 
By applying scientific methods to farming and living sustainably, Kalyan worked with villagers and in four years, has transformed the barren piece of land into an inspiring model that is self-reliant and environmentally sustainable. As part of developing the village, ProtoVillage’s inhabitants had initially built eight farm ponds in low-lying areas to store rain water and had networked them.  
He adds that though the rains are scarce in the region, one good spell of about 90 minutes one day filled the ponds with enough water to last for months and attracted hundreds of people from nearby villages. “When local authorities had pushed farmers to dig ponds, they couldn't see the merit in them. But when they witnessed how we managed to conserve rain water, the number of requests to the administration to build farm ponds shot up,” adding that “such is the power of action.”
At ProtoVillage, the daily chores of the dwellers include working in the fields to grow crops, vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Some are involved in carpentry, soap-making, house construction and allied activities. “In the evenings, apart from indulging in folk arts like music, dance or drama, we all sit down to talk about the things we had learnt that day,” elaborates Kalyan. 
‘Reason for Being’

The Japanese concept of “ikigai”, which means “a reason for being", is a familiar philosophy among the villagers — right from 10-year-old resident and Kalyan’s son Rishab. The learning centre in the village is also named Ikigai. 
Everyone in the village is constantly learning — from farming methods, to building sustainable earthbag homes (bags filled with mud are used as building blocks instead of bricks, making for stronger homes), setting up wind turbines or just sitting down to learn a new language or a principle of science. Meanwhile, Kalyan’s wife Shobhita Kedlaya, plans the curriculum for the village. 
Now, ProtoVillage also houses a Rural Economic Zone (REZ), where farmers and others from the region can work on entrepreneurial ideas. Additionally, the village also offers fellowships to those rural youths and students interested to study the practices and adopt them back in their villages/homes. 

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