Ecosphere is a social enterprise that is a collaborative initiative of the local community of Spiti and professionals from diverse backgrounds and is jointly owned by these stakeholders. It began operations in 2002. In this interview, Ishita Khanna, Director and Co-founder, shares with us the motivation behind setting up Ecosphere, its sustainability philosophy and activities.
What was the motivation behind setting up Ecosphere?
Ecosphere is a social enterprise that is a collaborative initiative of the local community of Spiti and professionals from diverse backgrounds and is jointly owned by these stakeholders.
Ecosphere works in a remote part of the trans-Himalayas of India in a region called the Spiti Valley. Home to unique landscapes, lakes, meadows, peaks, moonscapes, magnificent night skies, an ancient geological heritage, diverse flora and fauna, and a rich thriving Buddhist culture, Spiti is a unique haven of cultural, environmental and spiritual integrity.
This natural and cultural splendor of Spiti however has another facet. Spiti is a high altitude cold desert region with average habitable altitudes of 4000 metres. A six month long cold winter with temperatures dipping to below 30 degrees Celsius, leaves the little over 10,000 inhabitants with an extremely short working season in which to earn the year’s livelihood.
Traditionally the Spiti people were a self sufficient agro-pastoralist community bartering with their neighbours. Crops grown required little water and were drought resistant. However with the advent of a cash based economy these have been replaced by cash crops such as the green pea and apple, which are very water intensive. Water, however is a scarce resource as is agricultural land.
Agriculture moreover is restricted to one crop a year and is solely dependent on winter snow melt for irrigation. Shifts in climate and freak weather conditions that are increasingly becoming the norm further impact this delicate balance leading to a common occurrence of crop failures.
This is further accentuated by the limited availability of alternate cash based incomes to supplement agricultural incomes. Over the years the local economy has been supported by government subsidies and government jobs, however these are fast depleting leading to a situation where the ever growing aspirations of the community and their quest for survival are falling on the limited natural resources of the region.
Ecosphere began working in Spiti in 2002 with the objective of responding to the need for developing alternate and sustainable livelihood avenues that responsibly use available local resources (natural & cultural) and protect the environment.