Rural Innovations: Transforming Lives

India is full of creativity and innovative talent at the grassroots level. Innovation is the key to development. Innovators can convert knowledge into social good and economic wealth. Mohd Mustaquim highlights the engagement of some brilliant rural innovators with society to improve the quality of life at local level.

Rural Innovations: Transforming Lives

Jugaad, a slang in rural India which is known as to find out small solutions for big problems, sometimes it outsmarts urban minds. Even, the uneducated rural folks ideate such creativities, which not only bring solutions to their day-to-day life but also get national and international recognitions.

If you travel through the countryside, you will see the plethora of such creative minds across India. Such grassroots innovations have changed the lives of people as well as caught the eyeballs of the national and international communities.

Taking the creative minds into the mainstream, National Innovation Foundation – India (NIF) has built up a database of more than 2,11,600 technological ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices from over 575 districts. NIF, an autonomous body under the Department of Science and Technology, has taken major initiatives to serve the knowledge-rich, economically poor people and has so far recognised more than 775 grassroots innovators, communities and school students at the national level in its various award functions.

It also provides financial supports to innovators through its Micro Venture Innovation Fund (MVIF) scheme with a single signature without any collateral or guarantee.

Today, it has become a flag-bearer in promoting rural innovations. Dr. Vipin Kumar, Director and Chief Innovation Officer at NIF says, “We are committed to make India innovative by documenting, adding value, protecting the intellectual property rights of the contemporary unaided technological innovators as well as of outstanding traditional knowledge holders and disseminating them on a commercial and non-commercial basis.”

Here’s a collection of such innovations, which have received national and international recognitions.

Cotton Stripper

Farmers in the rainfed areas of Gujarat grow a desi variety (797) of cotton. It is harvested in January and February. After harvesting, they had been employing a large number of manual labourers for stripping lint from the partially opened cotton bolls. It was a time-consuming affair for the farmers, sometimes it had been lingered to rainy season which cause big loss of revenue as cotton get wetted.

Meanwhile, in 1991, a progressive farmer, Mansukhbhai Patel decided to make an affordable machine for removing the shells from cotton bolls.
Kantibhai Patel, a factory manager with Trent Group Cooperative Cotton Shelling Ginning and Pressing Society, invested a sum of Rs 150,000 for research and development work of mechanising cotton stripping.

“As the entire family from kids, school children to women use to remove cotton shells manually for whole day. Their production used to be just 5kg to 20 kg of cotton. Though the production was very low and the labour cost was high, I decided to make a cotton stripping machine,” Mansukhbhai says.
He took a shed on rent in a cotton-processing mill and acquired some basic machinery. After three years, Mansukhbhai demonstrated the cotton-stripping machine in 1994. The machine got great response from the people, which turned into good number of purchase orders.

The customers were impressed on the time of demonstration. However, it could not perform well under actual working conditions. The customers returned back the machines with several complaints. Thus, he had to refund all the money to the consumers. It led to a big financial debt for him.

Not losing the heart, he sharpened his efforts. After two years of sweating out, Mansukhbhai developed a final model in 1996 with several technical changes. Over a period, he has made more changes in the cotton stripper. When the machine got popularity, after 2000, he has made and sold 15-20 machines every year, priced at Rs 5 lakh each.

The machine is made of mild steel and cast iron that run on a 15 HP motor. It processes around 400 kg cotton every hour. The cotton-stripper saves the cost involved in manual labour and eliminates drudgery for women and children. It is being sold in Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Surendra Nagar, Morbi and other surrounding areas of Gujarat.

Mansukhbhai was conferred with a national award by NIF in 2002. He has also received Best Technology Award for the year 2003 by National Research Development Corporation.

Turmeric and Ginger Planter

In the conventional method of ginger and turmeric plantation, labourers have to dig soil before plating. This is tedious, time-consuming and back breaking task as the labourers have to work in bending posture regularly.

At the same time, at Soygaon village, 15 km from Ajantha Caves in Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, Indrajit Balvirsingh Khas decided to work on this problem and came up with a ginger and turmeric planter. He started working on his dream project in 2009. After three years of hard work, he came up with it in 2012.

“Initially, people were not ready to accept a non-branded machine. However, I sold 6-7 machines by word of mouth. After exhibiting the machine in Rashtrapati Bhawan in March 2014, I sold 25 machines,” says, Khas.

He took a running capital of Rs 2 lakh from NIF at an interest rate of 7.5 percent for one year. He has repaid the amount to NIF. The patron organisation also provided technological support through its engineers.

This is a tractor mounted turmeric and ginger planter with adjustable row spacing, costing Rs 75,000. This planter opens the furrow, meters and delivers the seeds and places it appropriately in the furrow.

This planter includes feeder, metering mechanism, chain drive, bevel gears, rotating discs and adjustable furrow openers.

One can adjust the raw spacing from 4.5 to 5.5 ft. Besides, the machine carries a wheel at the base that can adjust the plant to plant distance, which can be varied from 6 inch, 9 inch to 12 inch.

Low Cost Paddy Thresher

In paddy farming, threshing is an important phase when the grain is separated from panicles. In conventional method, it is one of the time consuming and labourious jobs. The labourers have to beat the straws against the stone or use draught animals. Even the threshing machines came into the market, but farmers had to chop the crop from the mid of the straws for threshing. In that case, the straws get wasted.

Hence, Fazlul Hoque from Marigaon in Assam innovated a low cost thresher, which can thresh the paddy without chopping the straw. The machine has specifications of separating and throwing grains, chaffs and straws. It reduces the labourer and drudgery.

Hoque, educated only till 8th standard, thundered with his creativity in 2007. He has been awarded by NIF in sixth national biennial awards in 2011. NIF provided technological support as well as financed Rs 10 lakh under MVIF scheme from which he has so far repaid Rs 3.5 lakh.

“The thresher is sold during paddy harvesting seasons twice a year, November – December and April – May. I make 200 machines every year, but unable for fulfilling the much higher demand,” claims Hoque.

“Considering this demand, NIF is looking for a commercial manufacturer for the machine. As patent has been done, the royalty will be paid to me,” adds the 55 years old innovator.

The thresher can be operated by a 5 HP electric motor or an engine. It is consisting of feeding chute, threshing cylinder, blower, straw outlet and grain outlet. The external body is made of high quality steel sheets to withstand maximum wear and tear. It produces around 450 kg of paddy grains per hour. The machine costs around Rs 55,000.

Trench Digger

It has been a high labourious and expensive task for the civic agencies to dig trenches for laying underground water supply lines, phone and electric cables, sewage lines manually. Besides, it is very tough to maintain a uniform depth and width of the trench. Having many kinds of limitations, the earlier available diggers were not capable to function on proper manner. Slow speed and uniform digging were the major constraints in front of the earlier machines.

Besides, the machines were big in size and out of affordability. Thus, Yusuf Khan, a 6th standard passed, from Sikar in Rajasthan came up with a low cost trench digging machine in 1998 which overcome the constraints of earlier available high-cost diggers such as digging with uniform width, depth and speed.

It is a tractor-mounted digger, with long arm and rotator chain, the machine makes trenches with sharp edges rapidly. Its blades cut the soil and throw it out very fast as the chain rotates continuously.

Khan was awarded by NIF under the national award category in 2005. He was also financed Rs 12 lakh under MVIF scheme of which he has so far repaid Rs 3 lakh. Since, its inception, he has sold 400 machines in Rajasthan. The ex-factory price of the trench digger is Rs 3.5 lakh.

The biggest challenge was waiting on his way. Despite obtaining patent, many locales, started manufacturing his innovative trench digger with small modifications.

“The counter products have put me in debt. Today, there is no sale of the digger. Thus, I have stopped manufacturing. Thus, I am unable to repay the loan. I am requesting NIF to transfer my patent to any commercial manufacturer to recover it,” Khan elaborates his painful story.

Rather than a profit making entrepreneurship, it has become a loss making venture for him. Today, his creativity has brought him into a big debt and he is working as a mechanic in a car workshop for his bread and butter.

Multi Tree Climber

South Indian coastal areas are known for their coconut production. But, climbing on the trees has always been a challenging task for manual labourers. Sometimes, they get hurt with injuries on their hands, legs and other parts of their body. Most tragically, sometimes they have to lose their lives if they fall due to any mistake.

It discourages people to climb on the trees. According to the Coconut Development Board, this is a rarity to find climbers in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Goa. Very few people choose to take the risky affair.

Due to lack of availability of labourers, the coconut farmers are able to harvest their crop once in a while. However, in normal conditions, the harvesting period escalates to 45-60 days without any break in the mid.

Hence, a permanent spinner mechanic in a spinning mill for 25 years, DN Venkat from Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, who lost his job due to shutting down of the mill, started working on a device in 1999 that can ease climbing on the trees, eliminate life risk, save from injuries and do not require skilled labourers. After a decade’s hard work, Venkat innovated a tool in 2008, called tree climber. It became popular among the coconut farmers in very short period.

Suddenly after his innovation, he incorporated a company, R Tech Agri Equipments in August 2008. The innovator received consolation award in 2012 and a small loan of Rs 370,000 under MVIF scheme. NIF also supported him in exhibiting the tree climber in Bangalore Agri Expo 2014. The patent has also been filed by NIF on Venkat’s behalf.

“We faced financial crisis while developing this machine. NABARD funding was very useful to complete the project. We also faced many technical problems, by getting suggestions from engineers in various fields, we modified the product and had many trials in different types of trees in coconut plantation. Once we received positive feedback from farmers, we submitted the product in University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore for testing,” Venkat further adds. 

“Since, we made the tree climber, we have sold 150-200 units every year. We received positive feedback and with the support of the farmers and their suggestions, we have developed and modified it further,” elucidates the innovator. The machine is available in three variants ranging Rs 7,700 to Rs 9,300.

Sugarcane Bud Chipper

In conventional method of sugarcane planting, a farmer has to plant the entire cane, sets or spend around Rs 10,000 for seeds for one acre of land. It sometimes becomes a costly affair and not affordable for the small income farmers. Roshanlal Vishwakarma in Narsimhapur, Madhya Pradesh has eight acres of landholding. It was not feasible for him to spend big money for seeds of sugarcane.

To make sugar plantation feasible, Vishwakarma developed an implement, sugarcane bud chipper in 2006. By pressing the handle, the unit removes the bud from the node of the sugarcane, which is then used for planting. Though the Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering (CIAE) Bhopal, had suggested some ergonomic feasibility study, they have recognised the technique as a novel thought. Slightly different kinds of chippers are reportedly developed in Tamil Nadu but this one seems low cost and efficient. After technological testing, NIF approved it in 2009.

Vishwakarma was awarded in the 5th biennial award function of NIF. He has also been financed under the MVIF scheme in three phases, got Rs 20,000, Rs 2 lakh and Rs 9 lakh, respectively. For marketing in Maharashtra, Tata Agrico has acquired its marketing rights.

The ex-factory price of the bud chipper is Rs 1,200. An experienced labourer can chip 400 buds per hour. It reduces 90 percent of the cost of plantation.

“Now, for an acre of land, a farmer only needs 200 kg of sugarcane buds which cost only Rs 500. Today, farmers are able to chip the buds from the sugarcane in the field and rest of the sugarcane go to the mill for sugar or jaggery processing,” says the innovator.

“Since 2009, I have made and sold around 8,000 bud chippers. In 2010, I was awarded Jagjivan Ram Abhinav Kisan Samman by ICAR. Then, again in 2012, I was awarded Rs 10 lakh by NABARD,” he further adds.

Sugarcane bud chipper pumped his creativity. Planting of buds was time- consuming. In an acre of land, there were six labourers required for 3-4 days. Then, he innovated another machine, sugarcane bud planter, which plants buds in an acre within 3-4 hours. The ex-factory price of the planter is Rs 1,20,000.

“NIF helped me in filing patent for the planter which is yet to come. I have given its manufacturing rights to Aurangabad-based Inderjit Balvirsingh Khas who pays me Rs 10,000 royalty for every machine he sells,” Vishwakarma says.

Rural India is full of creative minds. The industry just needs to cooperate with them for the betterment of the society. While the majority of creativities, recognised by NIF, are showing good results, but failing of innovations like low cost trench diggers needs special attention.  

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