Rural folks sometimes find magnificent solutions of their problems and these solutions lead to the innovations. SRISTI and Honey Bee Network in collaboration with NIF conduct Shodh Yatra to acknowledge such innovations and do documentation, add value, protect the intellectual property rights and disseminate them on a commercial and non-commercial basis. Mohd Mustaquim analyses the 37th Shodh Yatra conducted recently
Vijay Datt Lotlekar, 46, in South Goa believes in creating the best from available resources. Using coconut shells, Lotlekar manufactures over 450 different household products such as water bottles, diyas (lamps) and showpieces. He has developed 530 different designs in the cross, keeping each one unique in its design. Having made from the coconut shells, he sells buttons to a design school at Rs 26 per piece. After his success, people from the neighboring regions are coming to him for getting training for these arts.
“Using coconut shells, I have created plywood which is water and termite resistant,” Lotlekar says. The shopping of his coconut shell products by AirAsia Airlines proves his success story.
These ornaments have made his name registered in the Guinness World Records. His organic incense sticks made from coconut husk effectively keep mosquitoes at bay.
The innovative ideas of Lotlekar came to the knowledge of the world during the 37th Shodh Yatra, organised by Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI).
Shodh Yatra is a journey on foot in search of knowledge, creativity and innovations at the grassroots. It is supported by National Innovation Foundation (NIF) along with other partners to reach out to the remotest parts of rural India with a belief that hardship and challenges of natural surroundings are the prime motivators of creativity and innovations.
“Shodh Yatra aims at unearthing traditional knowledge and grassroot innovations that have not only simplified the lives of men, women and farm labourers, but have also significantly contributed towards the conservation of bio-diversity. It is a journey of mutual exchange and sharing of knowledge. Whatever knowledge and practices that we have pooled in over the years are shared with the villagers during the Yatra,” Dr Vipin Kumar, Director, NIF says.
“During the Yatra, about 80-100 people from different walks of life – scientists, academicians, students, farmers, innovators, journalists etc – walk together,” he adds.
Shodh Yatra tries to learn about the experiences of the farmers engaged in organic farming and inform other farmers about the same. It encourages the curiosity of the children in organic farming and to discover the knowledge of bio and crop diversity among rural people. The yatris (travelers) – part of Shodh Yatra, meet the people who solve their problems through their own creativity and inborn ability, store their knowledge and felicitate them.
The numbers of yatris sometimes go up to 100-120 and sometimes it is 25-30. “When we go in some of the most difficult areas, like when we were in Bastar, there were only about 25-30 yatris. Through Shodh Yatra, we try to honour the rural creative minds at their doorsteps. The whole point is that when someone has solved a problem, he deserves to be honoured. More than that we also try to understand why many times the creative people remain unrecognised in their own communities,” says Prof Anil Gupta, Coordinator, SRISTI and Executive Vice Chair, NIF.
Taking the initiative further, the 37th edition of ShodhYatra was flagged off from the Ayee village in Maharashtra on the May 11 and ended at Colamb village in South Goa on May 17 this year.
There were 65 yatris from 15 different states. Together, they covered about 120 km on foot. The aim of the yatris was to understand the culture and traditions existing in the regions through which they walked and, along the way, discover unprecedented occurrences.
Like true diamonds in the rough, yatris were treated to the sight of myriad colours, in the underdeveloped regions of Goa, the architecture and design of the colourful houses showed the enduring influence of Portuguese culture.
“Though we have travelled in so many different regions of India on previous Shodh Yatras, this was indeed a sight to behold. We noticed vivid structural designs in the underdeveloped and tribal regions,” a yatri, part of Shodh Yatra said.
Creative minds come to light
The yatris found that a villager in the South Goa, Sanjeev Patil has created a system that allows a person to switch off the water motor remotely from anywhere, even sitting at home. He is also planning on creating an automatic water feeder for animals where one simply needs to place a bucket in front of an animal.
Similarly, Ramchandra Thakor has used biogas to produce electricity. He has created an eco-friendly carbonator that converts dung and other biodegradable waste into biogas. Apart from this, he has also innovated a solar powered water heater.
Suresh Naykar alias Sukur has improved the clutch system of bikes including the bullet which has helped increase the mileage while reducing the maintenance costs. The clutch system does not need frequent repairs.
Inventing Food Habits
During the Shodh Yatra, yatris were introduced to recipes that used the local rice varieties. The benefits are endless such as aiding in ailments like diabetes, alleviating stomach pains and indigestion, maintaining physical strength, overall fitness and well-being. Moreover, they are particularly helpful at the time of childbirth.
A unique gastronomic experience of this Shodh Yatra was tasting kheer prepared from jackfruit and coconut milk. Yatris claim that they had never tasted any such delicacy and it was quite interesting to see how locals use various combinations from available ingredients to create something tasty as well as nutritious.
The local women also informed the Yatris about an edible preparation of peanuts, jackfruit seeds and pulses that are not only loved for its taste but also for its cultural value – it is prepared during several festivals and is used as a religious offering during rituals.
Yatris noticed a delicacy that was prepared using colocasia (aaruna) leaves, as well as banana stem and flowers. A lady created a delicacy using raw, unprocessed cashew nuts with very little oil that was incredibly tasty apart from being highly nutritious.
At Bimbal village in South Goa, a lady Komal presented food art, an art using an amalgamation of several vegetables. Komal has shared her artistic skills with several other villagers too. She belongs to Karnataka and shifted to Bhimol after her marriage. This is a classic example of diffusion of artistic knowledge by crossing boundaries.
In the local cuisine, there is extensive use of coconut. Tender coconut, dry coconut and coconut water are used in various forms to improve the taste. A local produce that used extensively is Kokum. Yatris tried a combination of Kokum and garlic water that aids digestion.
Another distinctive experience was eating cucumber halva. This is quite unusual and reflects the diversity of cuisines that is prevalent even today. The rich culinary knowledge has been passed from generation to generation and is culturally relevant.
Arts and Handicrafts
During the Shodh Yatra, yatris were able to observe art created out of mud (clay) and bamboo. Yatris also saw different sculptures made out of coconuts and beetle leaves.
The creations of the locals’ craftsmanship can easily serve as decoration pieces in urban households and present potentially large business opportunities. They also have attempted to conserve fuel by using earthen stoves. There is a conscious effort to preserve the culture and heritage through the handicrafts.
Taking the creative minds into the mainstream, NIF has built up a database of more than 2,11,600 technological ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices from over 575 districts. The Foundation 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.