Rural Innovations in Troubled Land

The north-eastern state of Manipur has been mired in violence for long. Despite the unshakeable tag, it, however, isn't without talents, N Bobo Meitei writes.Â
Rural Innovations in Troubled Land

It hasn’t known peace, and thus hasn’t witnessed what it could bring to a place. Perennial violence has impacted lives and the morbidity has blighted the place. Blanketed by it, it is hard to imagine development being associated with the place as a keyword. It is inevitable to conclude that development does not flourish where it is awashed with guns, its people caught up in armed conflict for generations. However, it would be wrong to write off exceptions, just like some fresh flowers blooming in a sprawling muddy field. The place is the Indian border state of Manipur. I was in search of people who were doing incredible things at a violent time, just the blooming flowers in the muddy field. What was discovered was something so hopeful that it changed the mindset in which violent-engulfed mind like mine had been shaped. The hope is the innovators from the state where the existence of manufacturing is virtually absent. National Innovative Foundation (NIF) called ‘grassroots innovators’, innovators who hadn’t received any formal training and hadn’t attended proper formal education.

Reed (Kouna) Mat Weaving Machine
I met Yenkhom Shyamchandra in Thoubal district. He is responsible for his late father’s legacy. His father, Yenkhom Mangi, was a physically challenged person who had developed the innovation. Making mats of local reed grass, which is known as ‘Kouna’ in Meiteilon, is a popular practice in Manipur. The traditional method for weaving reed mat is labour-intensive, requiring the weaver to work in a squatting position for long. It is, apparently, a tedious, slow and physically challenging work. Normally, it takes almost four days to make a mat in the traditional process, thus making the occupation unproductive and uneconomical. Mangi’s reed mat weaving machine is a small-sized loom and it works like one without any shuttle in the machine. Its leg treadle is replaced by a hand lever.

The machine enjoys local demand. However, Shyamchandra believes that without providing proper training buyers won’t be able to use the machine efficiently. With the machine three six-foot long, three-foot wide mats can be made in one day. When a traditional weaver uses twenty reed sticks, his machine can use 50 reed sticks, consuming the same amount of time, in the process of making the mat. Shyamchandra claims that the mats woven with this machine are of better quality as the manner in which reed sticks are pressed against one another is done with greater force. So far, apart from the two machines it has sold to NIF, at Rs 15,000 each, he hasn’t sold any.

Paddy husk stoves
Deben’s paddy husk stove comes in two types. The cheaper one is priced at Rs1,200. With 700gm of husk and 500gm of chipped charcoals it can boil 6 litres of water within 18-20 minutes. So far, he has sold almost 3,000 such stoves. Another kind is with ventilator operated with battery, which can also regulate the flames, is priced at Rs3,200, and it comes with the battery. With this stove 15 litres of water can be boiled in 25 minutes. 140 of such stove has been sold so far. What makes them different in comparison with the traditional stoves is that they can easily produce blue flames with cheap fuels, and the amount of time they consume is far lesser, and the problem of smoke is almost solved.

Fish Dryer and Paddy husk stoves

Traditional sun-drying of fish is a time consuming process. Maibam Deben, a blacksmith by profession and a former mechanic, has developed a closed vessel that dries fish uniformly in significantly lower time than the traditional method. The dryer uses charcoal and paddy husk or sawdust as fuel and is available in three models.
The fish dryer is priced at Rs 650. With 100gm of charcoal it can dry fish within two hours. In case of red meat the time is double. But the latter is priced at Rs 1,200. The good thing about his dryers is that while drying the meat is not burnt, which is the case with the traditional method of drying directly exposed to flames.

Double Shuttle Loom
Ngangom Nabakumar, a former driver and a carpenter, was born in a farming family. He drove trucks and worked as carpenter during rainy season making furniture. Now, he spends his full time in constructing double shuttle loom and its accessories. As his wife is involved in weaving clothes, he noticed the problems in traditional shuttle looms. He decided to improvise it to enhance productivity and reduce labour. His ‘double shuttle loom’ works with the same mechanism as that of any standard manual shuttle loom, but it is wider with the provision for two sets of warp rolls, resulting to double the output with the same amount of time.The challenge he faced while designing the loom was the movement and the synchronization of two shuttles. But the technical details remain more or less the same like the standard shuttle loom. Apart from the double shuttle loom, he has developed other accessories as well.

With Nabakumar’s innovation what a weaver cannot achieve on a single traditional loom can easily be achieved easily. Traditionally, when a weaver weaves sheets for a double bed he or she has to weave double the length, investing double the time, and then seam them in the middle to convert them to a single sheet for a double bed. With his machine the actual size can be woven with the time halved. So far, he has sold twenty double shuttle looms, priced at Rs 26,000 each.

Solar silk-reeling-cum-spinning machine

M.Manihar Sharma has innovated automatic pump operator machine, incense stick making machine, to name a few. His recent innovation is solar silk-reeling-cum-spinning machine. The innovator has achieved these being only a matriculate. Second son among seven siblings, Manihar Sharma, lost his mother when he was eight years old. After matriculation, he left his studies due to financial problems.

Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers,  Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals conferred him the  3rd National Awards for Technology Innovation in petrochemicals 2012-2013 in recognition of his contribution to technology innovation in the category of innovation of polymer processing ,machinery and equipment. Also, National Innovative Foundation conferred him National Innovative Award 2009 for inventing automatic pump operator (APO).

The machine is a small portable and durable. It consists of five reeling heads and each head has separate five switches button. It can be run on solar power harvested through a solar plate of 17v to 15v. The reeling machine helps save time and labour capital.Three of solar-powered muga-reeling and spinning machines have been made so far, and two of such are now at use at a working shed at Kongbah, Imphal-East. Further production of the machine hasn’t happened due to lack of funding and man power. The machine helps produce twisted silk yarn, overcoming the two-process with the traditional process of reeling and spinning silk. The machine is priced at Rs 23,000-Rs 25,000, and it comes with a solar panel of 17v, 30W, and a back-up battery of 12v.

The Changing Face of Rural India