This profile was prepared when Ishita khanna was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2008.
The New Idea
Ishita has introduced a unique set of market-based incentives to improve environmental management in the isolated villages of India’s high Himalayas, instilling a new sense of pride to communities long mired in dependency. By developing a range of products and marketing outlets for the region’s fast disappearing indigenous plants, she is both reviving sustainable farming practices and restoring local ownership to a region which has for years relied almost wholly on heavy government hand-outs. This signifies a major shift from previous development schemes in the region: Whereas such attempts have relied on cash crops and devastating resource extraction, Ishita uses the growing demand for eco-friendly products to create what she calls “seabuckthorn entrepreneurs”. These local groups are trained to cultivate and produce native crops, including seabuckthorn, the region’s declining “Wonder Berry,” as well as traditional handicrafts and other eco-friendly enterprises. The first movement of its kind in the Indian subcontinent, Ishita’s organization, Spitiecosphere, has given rise to significant collaborations with other organizations in the state of Himachal and elsewhere along the Trans-Himalayan belt of India. As these inaccessible regions have historically remained outside the purview of targeted and informed government and non-governmental support, Ishita aims to create a development model that can be implemented across the entire Himalayan range. She is in the process of developing a consistent and replicable brand for seabuckthorn products, which, due to her efforts, are now produced in other ecologically similar states across India. Most importantly, she is paving the way for the region’s most isolated communities to retake control of their resources, proving that better environmental management can be a profound source of economic growth.