grassroots innovation challanges: problems with which India should not live any longer


Grassroots innovation challenges:

A large number of grassroots innovations and traditional knowledge practices have been scouted through the Honey Bee Network. And yet, many everyday life problems still remain unresolved.   The list below gives an idea of some such unsolved problems which are in need of urgent solution.  We have to parameterise the problems, contextualise them and then pose a national challenge to address them in a time bound manner.    It is important to mention that the problems faced by women have often been given low priority even by the grassroots innovators, not to mention the formal R&D system.   These have been compiled by NIF and other members of Honey bee team based on shodh yatras and other inetractions with local communities.

Paddy Transplanters
Almost entire paddy is transplanted manually by women using a back bending posture which is painful and involves lot of drudgery.  Many times, the labourers end up having fungal infections on their feet due to prolonged exposure to water.

We have a couple of conceptual transplanters available in our database like the ones developed by Photo Singh from UP and another one by Ranjit Mirig from Orissa. However, much design optimization needs to be done to improve the efficiency.

Foot-pedal Paddy Threshers
Conventionally paddy is threshed manually using hands or using bullocks by the people who cannot afford mechanized threshers. Both the methods are labour intensive.

Dharanidhar Mahato from West Bengal has developed a pedal operated paddy thresher, which needs optimization. The end product needs to suit the efficiency requirements of common farmers.

Potable Water Carrier for Women
For hundreds of years women have had to carry water pots on their heads and walk for many miles every day. This results in severe pain in their neck. Not much has been done in this regard.

Grassroots solutions available like Panihari of Khimjibhai Kanadia and water jacket of Madhav Savant need lot of ergonomic inputs.

Improving cooking stoves

Despite numerous improvements, millions of women use a stove made of three bricks or stones or just mud structures.  A great deal of energy gets wasted because stoves have to be designed for different cooking styles, fuel stock and design of utensils.

Some of the existing stoves are: Jyoti Ravishankar (Karnataka, double jacketed stove, which heats water while cooking), Bharat Agrawat (Gujarat, three tier wood stove that makes better use of residual energy and flue gases), C Senthil Kumar (Tamil Nadu, stove with insulated brick lining to ensure proper burning), Ashok Thakur (Bihar, stoves using paddy husk as fuel, can be used on boats also), V Jayaprakash (Kerala, Incorporation of secondary burning chamber to burn the un-burnt hydrocarbon coming out with the smoke/exhaust), and many others.

Transportation on hills


People in the mountains have to carry large quantity of firewood, fodder, food grains, etc., over steep slopes on their head or back. The strain is enormous. No low cost trolleys are available to negotiate stony path. These should be easy to take up and equally easy to bring   down.

NIF threw up the challenge to engineering students, three of them (Balaji T. K., Kunal Kumar, Arun Roshan Ganesh) came up with their design of a hill trolley with triangular wheels. Later a young student of class five, Yathartha Saxena also designed a triangular wheel assembly based luggage carrier. The problem is acute and one needs to come out with a definitive solution soon.

Low cost water filters for use in villages

More than 60 per cent infections are supposed to be caused by water borne pathogens or impurities.  We still have to develop location specific, low cost filters, which can address this problem in an affordable and accessible manner.

People have indigenously devised their own filtration units, like the one available in Dhemaji (where chiefly iron salts and sand get filtered, though not adequately). However, much remains to be  done as there may be other unnecessary or harmful minerals present in the water, about which people may not be aware of.   Much work has to be done in this regard for two objectives a) field screening of the water and b) low cost efficient filter for mass use.  Mobile phone camera based algorithms have to be developed to scan and screen drinkability of water.

Low cost oil expeller


Many forest areas inhabited by tribals have a large number of non-edible oilseed trees.  Majority of them use very inefficient method of oil extraction for fuel, health and light purposes.  There is a need for manual and solar oil extractors.

Affordable herbal extractor/processor


Most of the tribal communities have some or the other tradition of making liquor.  Unfortunately, the liquor contractors use their dependence on liquor for severe exploitation.  One needs low cost fractional distillation systems so that communities can get high value for low amount of biomass.  Likewise, hardly any in-situ value addition takes place in the medicinal plants.  One needs to tweak the policy and provide affordable processing units to make it happen so that tribal regions don’t remain as provider of raw materials.   Lot of social discontent in these regions is linked to excessive exploitation by the contractors and the forest bureaucracy.

Sensors for soil mineral and nutrient mapping


The cost of nutrients, which are often used in an unbalanced way, has been increasing over a period of time.  Farmers are neither getting proper return nor are they able to maintain soil health.  One needs mobile sensor based mapping devices so that farmers can move towards precision agriculture and save the cost and improve the soil health.

Efficient toilets


In the absence of proper toilets, the leakage from the undecomposed human excreta leads to widespread contamination of drinking water system in hill areas and also other humid areas.  One needs to develop terrain specific technologies which can be easily adapted with adequate protection.

Low cost efficient system for storage of vegetables and fruits

It is well known that as much as 25 per cent of vegetables and fruits get wasted because of improper storage.   We need low cost stationary as well as mobile storage system for the purpose.  Subsequently, we have to develop low cost processing and drying systems as well.

Arvindbhai from Gujarat has developed a cold storage using evaporation of water to keep the chamber cool.  He has also conceptualized a vehicle with the same facility for transport of food material from source of production to the place of storage.  In Manipur, Maniyar Sharma has developed a vegetable dryer using wood as a fuel.  Both need considerable improvement and optimization. 

Affordable use of renewable energy technologies

Low cost windmill, terrain induced energy generation [from shock absorbers], efficient hydro turbine for pumping water or generating electricity through irrigation canal network or small streams, etc., are required for distributed energy generation.

NIF database has a number of compressed air technologies in which further value addition is required. Also a number of solar based products like solar car, solar lanterns, solar bicycles, solar cookers, solar laminator, solar mosquito destroyers etc. A number of wind mills have also been developed and installed by grassroots innovators for different uses like pumping out water from the ground for irrigation (Mehtar and Mushtaq from Assam), energy generation (Dinesh Ashodia, Gujarat) or electricity for domestic use. Mansukhbhai Prajapati from Gujarat, Amrita Gupta from UP and a few others have developed evaporation based refrigerators. 


Handloom innovation and diffusion

Almost every other household has dependence on handloom in large parts of northeast.  A massive programme for improving efficiency both in supply chain and loom design is called for.

NIF has many innovations in this sector which require large scale demonstration and local adaptation. 

Anil K Gupta