Scaling up the spirit underlying grassroots innovation

An onion farmer from Maharashtra recognised three unique features in an odd onion plant selected from a traditional variety, Fursungi: a single whorl of leaves, more layers of skin, and no splitting of the outer layer (split skin will not be mixed with the rest for storage) led to a longer shelf life, disease-resistance, and higher yield.

How did Sandeep Vishram Ghole from Pune identify these indicators of a longer shelf life? In the past, falling prices of onion due to high yield and low market off-take led to governments losing elections. By increasing onions’ shelf life, farmers’ income can be increased, market fluctuations reduced and social welfare enhanced. What is even more appreciable is that Sandeep has shared more than 750 kg of seeds of improved variety among farmers in several states.

An open innovation model, propagated by the Honey Bee Network, has been practiced by innovators for long on their own. It is this spirit which needs to be scaled up. It is the spirit of selecting odd types of plants, breeds, odd observations. etc., as part of a decentralised, self-reliant Gandhian thinking. Innovators such as Sandeep have been brought together by the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) from all over the country at the 10th biennial Grassroots Innovation and Outstanding Traditional Knowledge Award function at Grambharati. All interested can see this exhibition till March 18.

Let me take a few more examples from this year’s awarded innovations. Sayed Ghani Khan and his wife, Firdaus, made an amazing contribution to conservation and augmentation of agrobiodiversity. They have reportedly conserved and documented about 1,000 paddy varieties and 150 varieties of mango, besides numerous other improved fruit varieties. They have been sharing their knowledge, seeds and practices openly. They have produced craft goods such as ‘toran’ out of paddy husk, adding tremendous value to women’s income.

Jitabhai Kodarbhai Patel and Laxman Bhai Devkaran Bhai Desai scouted by SRISTI have, among others, developed a variety of beans and a herbal medicine for bloating in cattle. The NIF validated all of these creative contributions of local innovators. Nilesh Bhai Dobariya has developed a mobile groundnut thresher, mentored and supported by GIAN and industry department, Gujarat government and by NIF.

Undoubtedly, all these and hundreds of other ideas of children, farmers, women and artisans need to be diffused widely.

Different instruments may be used for disseminating different aspects of grassroots innovations:

A) For diffusing the spirit of innovation, public and private media can play an important role. When was the last time you saw a frugal, inclusive, sustainable solution developed by common people, young students or by an agency, on the national or regional broadcast of Doordarshan or the All india Radio? We must trigger everyday conversations about the spirit of experimentation and exploring solutions for local problems, rather than adjusting with them. Deep-seated inertia in our life needs to be disturbed, agitated and eroded. A majority of newspapers/magazines do not have even a six-inch daily column for grassroots innovation in education, technology, culture and institutions.

B) Scaling up different elements of open innovation in relation with IPR-protected innovations requires large-scale decentralised farm trials and demonstrations. The KVK (Krishi Vigyan Kendra) network of ICAR (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) is ideally suited to facilitate such trials of various kinds of innovations from and for grassroots. A national mission is needed to bring dynamism, impatience and eagerness to deliver solutions either lying on the shelves or in the farms or workshops of grassroots innovators.

More ideas for scaling up innovations will be shared next week. If you have ideas about getting Indian companies, entrepreneurs, designers, start-ups to engage with grassroots innovators, please write to or


Visiting Faculty, IIM Ahmedabad & IIT Bombay and an independent thinker, activist for the cause of creative communities and individuals at grassroots, tech institutions and any other walk of life committed to make this world a more creative, compassionate and collaborative place