In 2008, 15-year-old Adarsha came up with an idea that would alleviate both poverty and environmental degradation for villages in rural India: the promotion of a plant called Jatropha curcas in lieu of the tobacco that farmers were harvesting as a cash crop. A hardy shrub, Jatropha seeds are an economically sustainable and ecologically friendly source of biofuel, a huge improvement over the cultivation of tobacco, which requires cutting down huge swathes of forest in order to have ample land space to cure the tobacco under the sun.
Armed with his idea and incredible dedication, Adarsha took action. He started by approaching both Parivarthana, an NGO that assists farmers, and Labland Biotechs, a plant biotechnology company, and bringing the two together to collaborate on the campaign, which he named Project Jatropha. Using the money he had earned in 2006 for winning the California State Spelling Bee, Adarsha bought the first 1000 Jatropha curcas seedlings that were planted in a rural village in India.
To date, Adarsha has distributed 13,000 Jatropha seedlings to over 50 self-help group leaders in rural Indian villages. Adarsha has made multiple trips to India to facilitate Project Jatropha, working closely with Parivarthana and Labland Biotechs, and he has organized numerous town-hall meetings with villagers to explain the benefits and process of the project in full. He has also taken farmers to the Labland Biotechs facilities to show them firsthand how the Jatropha seeds are turned into biofuel. Project Jatropha has committed to buying back the Jatropha seeds from the farmers at the market price, after which Labland Biotechs will convert the seeds to fuel. Adarsha plans on selling to fuel to local corporations and using the proceeds to further expand Project Jatropha, which he continues to lead to this day. He spends most of his summer and winter breaks in India to work on Project Jatropha.
Adarsha's hard work has helped to alleviate poverty in the villages by providing extra income to struggling Indian farmers, and has combated the deforestation that would have occurred if the farmers had instead been cultivating tobacco. The positive effects of Project Jatropha go beyond that however, for in addition, the processing of Jatropha seeds does not create carbon dioxide, thus cutting back harmful emissions. Adarsha's project has also inspired many local youth, who have joined forces with him to spread the word among their communities about the benefits of cultivating Jatropha.
At only 16 years old, Adarsha is an accomplished, ambitious young man with amazing vision and dedication to Project Jatropha. He has persevered in the face of many challenges: his young age, language barriers, physical distance from India, and the skepticism of disillusioned farmers who held a deep mistrust of outsiders. Adarsha is proof that there are youth with the vision and devotion to make a difference in the world.
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