Global warming has added a new commodity to the Kerala farmers' basket - a virtual commodity called carbon credit - thanks to their use of biogas.
The carbon credits, earned by around 16,000 farmers for their contribution towards controlling emission of greenhouse gases, are being traded now at Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) providing them a small amount annually.
It was an NGO, Anthyodaya, which pioneered the idea of carbon credit for farmers in the state.
"When farmers use biogas in their kitchen, they prevent the emission of methane and carbon dioxide, two of the major greenhouse gases," said Peter Thettayil, the executive director of Anthyodaya.
Anthyodaya is based at Angamali, around 40 km from here, and is involved in a big way in renewable energy and in rain water management in Kerala.
"Under the Kyoto protocol the developed countries are expected to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by 20 per cent by 2012. In case they are unable to meet the target they can offset it purchasing carbon credits from those making emission cuts," Peter told IANS.
Anthyodaya functions as an aggregator of carbon emission offset credits for the CCX and pools the credits generated from the operation of biogas plants for sale in the exchange.
The CCX members, which include companies like Ford, Motorola and Sony Electronics, have to cut their emissions by six percent by 2010. Those members who cannot meet the target can purchase offsets from the exchange.
"The CCX which came to know about our work contacted us in November 2006. Later, their teams came here and made detailed verifications," said Peter.
At present, Anthyodaya has around 16,000 biogas plant owners signed in for the carbon credit programme.
"To join the programme they have to give an undertaking that they will sell the credits only to the CCX. They also have to produce a document from the village panchayat certifying the biogas plant."
The farmers got their first proceeds from the sale of their credits in April this year. On an average each of them got around Rs 1,000.
For those who benefited, it was an unexpected gift. The amount received was calculated on the basis of size of the biogas plant.
"Farmers usually get an amount of money from authorities after a lot of procedures. When I joined the programme I never thought I'd get the amount so easily. At first we did not understand how we became eligible for this," K V Chacko, a farmer near Kumily in Idukki district, around 200 km from Kochi, told IANS.
"Biogas plant is part of our farming infrastructure. The cowdung slurry from the plant is an excellent manure. Now, we know we are doing something good by using biogas and got a reward for that."
"I am now aware of global warming and related issues," he added.
Another farmer, Robin Joseph from the same area, said that the carbon credit will help him get back the amount spent for the plant. "I had spent Rs 12,000 for the plant. In 12 years I can recover the amount," he said.
Robin said that those who did not join the programme are now eager to enrol for the carbon credit. "They did not join the carbon credit programme thinking it is some kind of fraud," he said.