Ishita Khanna is developing alternative and sustainable livelihood avenues for communities in the Himalayan region, to help them responsibly use locally available resources to generate income, reduce costs and protect the environment. She has introduced a unique set of market-based incentives to promote eco-tourism opportunities and environmental conservation in the region.
Ishita’s organisation, Ecosphere, has shown the local community the economic opportunity in cultivating and marketing Seabuckthorn, instead of destroying it. Largely targeted at women in the community, this project has increased income and educated the community on the value of preserving Seabuckthorn. She has also encouraged eco-tourism to help communities generate additional income, and ensure valley conservation. Ecosphere promotes a homestay program that hosts travellers in various villages. A village coordinator manages the process to ensure families host on a rotational basis. In addition, 10% of the income generated is pooled into a conservation fund.
Ishita has also developed renewable energy innovations to address Spiti’s harsh climate and infrastructure challenges. Solar-passive housing has been one of Ecosphere’s most successful projects with over 400 houses adopting technological innovations. In addition, Ecosphere is building green houses for monastaries and nunneries to help them grow more vegetables for sale, thereby improving their financial security. Ishita has also been instrumental in getting the Department of Tribal Development, Himachal Pradesh and other government buildings in high altitude regions to incorporate solar passive technologies in their building designs. Ishita’s off grid solar electrification project works on a collaborative partnership model where everyone in the community is involved in the decision making process and provides financial contributions. As a result, previously skeptical community members have now shifted their mind-set to accept renewable energy initiatives.
These efforts have significantly reduced costs, dependency on wood for heat and also decreased black carbon emissions leading to a marked improvement on health and nutrition levels of families. These innovations have consequently improved economic conditions and protected glaciers from environmental degradation. Ecosphere now intends to scale its work to other areas in the Himalayas. The renewable energy initiatives are being implemented in Lahaul, Kinnaur, along with other new initiatives that address current issues of water availability and distribution, and wildlife protection. Since last year, Ishita has been working on groundwater hydrology to address the water issue in Spiti due to its location and climate.
Note: This was updated in December, 2013, read on for the ELECTION profile.