June 12, 2009 / 6:44 AM / 10 years ago

French charity's Himalayan greenhouses win UK award

LONDON (Reuters) - A French charity that uses solar power to help Himalayan villagers to grow fresh vegetables such as spinach and garlic in the freezing mid-winter has won a British environmental prize.

France’s GERES (Renewable Energy, Environment and Solidarity Group) was among six international winners of the Ashden Awards, worth 200,000 pounds and set up in 2001 to promote green energy and raise awareness of climate change and poverty.

With little rain and temperatures below minus 25 Celsius (-13 Fahrenheit), it is hard for people in the isolated Himalayan mountains of Indian Kashmir to grow food in winter and collect fuel to cook and warm their houses.

The French charity helps villagers to exploit the abundant sunshine by building robust and cheap greenhouses to cultivate crops such as onions, cabbages and even strawberries.

“GERES is helping improve the nutrition and boost the income of villagers,” the Ashden Awards organisers said in a statement.

Britain’s Prince Charles, next in line to the throne, presented the awards at a ceremony in London late on Thursday.

Other winners included the Solar Energy Foundation, a German group that has harnessed the sun’s power to bring electricity to two Ethiopian villages for the first time.

The Oregon-based Aprovecho Research Centre won an award for its cheap, fuel efficient cooking stoves. The environmental group has signed a deal with Chinese stove-maker Shengzhou, which can produce 50,000 cookers each month for countries where people cook on open fires or old, inefficient stoves.

Another winner was Saran Renewable Energy, an Indian company that turns plant waste such as corn cobs into electricity that is sold to businesses that once relied on diesel generators.

Prizes also went to a solar-power project in Nicaragua and a clean fuel maker in Uganda. Details are at www.ashdenawards.org

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