Banana farm

Funding opportunity for your sustainable projects

About the Stuttgart Change Lab, the funding program dedicated to sustainability projects run by students or teachers

Fundraising for the project is one of the most important and difficult tasks to keep your project running. Did you know one of the solutions for this problem is offered by our university? It is the Stuttgart Change Labs, the funding program dedicated to sustainability projects run by students or teachers. I recently awarded this funding opportunity with the project called “Development of water treatment system and banana tree waste utilization into compost for banana fiber extraction factory in Tribeni, Nawalparasi (Nepal)“. Here I would like to explain how the funding came about and how it will support our program.

If you have read my previous USUS blog post 'How it is like volunteering in NGO', you already know about me and the NIDISI gGmbH's 'Menstruation Project' (now called Women Empowerment Cycle (WEC)), for which I am a volunteer. The project to apply for funding was based on a WEC sub-project for which I will be writing my master's thesis.

For those who haven't read it yet, I'll explain briefly what it's all about. But first, let me introduce you to the Stuttgart Change Lab.

Stuttgart Change Labs support

Stuttgart Change Labs is a fund provided by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and Art. They offer up to 1500 euros in financial support and support you the planning and organization of your project. The funds cannot be used for accommodation, salary, or transportation fees. They only support the expenses that are necessary for the implementation of the project.

Some tips on application, which I have found when applying for funding, is that the funding application should specify the general expenditure and the duration of the project. Also, as can be seen from their approach as well, they are really focused on knowledge transfer and collaboration. Even if collaboration has not yet been established, if there is a possibility it would be better to write a about it.

The path to become a project

I have been working as a volunteer and an intern for an NGO called NIDISI gGmbH based in Berlin. They have four amazing projects for sustainability in Nepal. Among them, I am a member of the Woman Empowerment Cycle (WEC). Our team is working in Nepal to produce biodegradable sanitary pads made from banana fiber, sell them at affordable prices, and use the profits to advocate women’s right and to raise awareness about menstruation.

During my internship in Nepal from May to September 2023, we built a factory in an agricultural area in the south of Nepal, near the border with India, to extract banana fiber and form it into paper for the next step of making pad.

Banana fibre extraction

My main responsibilities were to build the water treatment system, to clean the groundwater used in the production process at the factory and to compost the waste from the banana fiber extraction process and agricultural waste around the area. For our team, and for me personally, there were so many things the first time, for example installation of a water treatment system. We struggled a lot, but we learned a lot as well. Now the water treatment system is running, and we are composting the waste from the factory.

I am currently studying for a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering at the University of Stuttgart (M.Sc.WASTE) and have decided to write my Master's thesis closely related to these topic. I will return to Nepal to further improve the sustainability of the WEC in the fiber extraction factory. How? 

Project goals and how the funding support?

From interviews with the surrounding farmers and from our experience, we noticed and observed several problems for farmers and the environment in the area where we built our factory.

The 1st problem we found was water quality around the area. We tested the groundwater and we found out that the water is contaminated by iron and coliform. Local residents use this water as their drinking water and safe water is essential for the production of our products.

The 2nd problem was agricultural waste and fertilizer. Banana trees bear fruit only once in a lifetime. Therefore, banana trees are cut down every year after harvest. Most of the waste from these banana trees is left to decay, which causes negative impacts on the environment, especially locally. Also, farmers use chemical fertilizers imported from India to grow crops, including banana. However, their prices have been rising year after year, straining the economic situation of the farmers.

Foundation making for water treatment system

Three goals

To tackle these problems, we set those 3 goals for the project.

  1. Clean water supply for production and responsible wastewater management at the factory
  2. Factory and Banana Agricultural Waste Management - Composting
  3. Biochar Production – Material for Water Treatment and Composting enhancement

Goal 1 is primarily the installation of wastewater treatment systems for the factory and testing of these water quality since the process water treatment systems are already complete. In the future, we hope to increase the number of water purification systems and provide clean water to residents.

Goal 2 is to convert the waste from the process of our pad production into compost, which is made using agricultural waste that would otherwise be left on the farm. The compost will be offered to surrounding farmers, with the ultimate goal of reducing the use of chemical fertilizers.

Goal 3, biochar production, is very important to achieve Goals 1 and 2. The definition of biochar is ambiguous, so I will not describe it in detail here, but it is a type of charcoal, and it is amazing. It’s considered as carbon-neutral or even carbon-negative and possesses strong pollutant-capturing abilities in water. Additionally, it enhances crop yields when used in soil together with composting and improves soil properties. We have already produced Biochar with low-tech and incorporating it into our composting process and water treatment process. However, the kiln used for production was simply a hole dug in the ground (Soil-pit Kon-Tiki kiln), so it collapsed several times during the rainy season. Therefore, we are thinking of building a kiln that is stronger and easier to handle.

To achieve those goals, we intend to use the funds primarily for the following purposes.

  • Water, Compost and Biochar quality test at the professional laboratory.
  • Wastewater Treatment System set up.
  • Improvement of Biochar Production Process.

I am so excited about the journey ahead and so grateful for the support of the Stuttgart Change Labs. 


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