16 December 2013

Photo © Daniel Muller

Hasanchak & Govindpur, district Vaishali, Bihar

15 years ago, there was electricity in Hasanchak. Today, the infrastructure remains but the electricity supply is gone. The farmers have only one mode of power - diesel. A diesel powered pump consumes 20 litres of fuel on an average and costs the farmer approximately Rs. 1,100 per month. And not to forget the diesel pump pollutes the air on a massive scale with its carbon emissions. Just 2 kilometers away, women in Govindpur use stoves which are fuelled by dry banana and bamboo leaves.

A family in Govindpur was gracious enough to have me over to chat about farming and households. I was curious to see how much carbon the stoves emits. To this the homemaker replied, “Oh not much, this is way better than using the coal fuelled stove”. I was optimistic for a few minutes. She was kind to offer me some tea which would be made on this stove. As soon as the stove lit, a huge mass of black smoke engulfed the kitchen. There was a tiny window to drive the smoke out, which was clearly failing in its function.

Reflecting back on these incidents, one can say that its not the lack of technology but its implementation and marketing, which are the main reasons for using polluting, expensive and non renewable fuels.

The Greenpeace Innovation Challenge was launched in September 2013 to tap into renewable technology for farm irrigation. The idea behind the challenge was - to tackle the issue of rising diesel prices, to make irrigation pumps affordable and to promote the idea of clean and sustainable energy in rural Bihar.

So far we have successfully completed the challenge, the winners were awarded in a ceremony in Patna. But it’s not over yet. Now the implementation phase is on its course.

“But, how is this going to be implemented?”, asks the winner of the Innovation Challenge. This is the big question. When scientists, designers, innovators attempt to create something new, they may or may not consider how it will be implemented in the field. To initiate this process, we took a field trip to two villages in Bihar. Hasanchak and Govindpur in the Vaishali district of Bihar. The farmers in Hasanchak gave us a detailed overview of the agricultural situation.

The villagers have formed a Farmers Producers Association, which is an overarching body set up to help the farmers. The leader of the association - Shri JP Rai mentioned several issues that the farmers have to face on a day to day basis.

They use Indian and Chinese manufactured pumps, but both have their own limitations. While the Indian pumps are easier to repair owing to local service centres, they are not cheap in pricing. The Chinese pumps are affordable, but break down quite often, making the overall expense higher. The crops which are cultivated in the area are brinjals, tomatoes, cauliflowers, peas.

The introduction of a solar energy irrigation pump could solve a lot of these issues. The winning designs will be prototyped and implemented in these villages, based on the feedback there will be modifications made, and the process will continue till the right product is created.

Lastly, a significant reason for creating such a product is also to shift the ways of thinking in agricultural farming. Maybe the diesel pump irrigates more than the water actually required by the fields, thereby affecting the water table locally, maybe there has not been any room to try different farming mechanisms as there was no alternative to the existing technology. The challenge provides a platform to find solutions, to try and experiment new ways and means of implementing renewable technology, which holds the key of energy needs.