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Retired from the Army, This 72-Year-Old Officer Is Now Solving Farmers’ Water Woes

A compulsive innovator, Vivek Mundkur’s latest innovation of a solar water pump is changing the lives of farmers who live in water-deficient areas. Affordable, portable and energy efficient – his water pump is helping farmers earn more from their land.

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Google Vivek Mundkur’s name and interestingly, you’ll find an article from 1981. It has a black and white photograph of him flying high on a hang glider while hundreds of people look up at the spectacle. Hang Gliding, an air-sport or recreational activity in which a pilot flies a light, non-motorized foot-launched heavier-than-air aircraft called a hang glider, was brought to India by Vivek Mundkur.

A mechanical engineer who served the Indian Army, Mundkur built a glider himself and mastered the art of flying it. His efforts popularised the sport in the country.

A passion to innovate has been the signature thread of Vivek’s life and despite a freak accident that cut his arm off while building a hovercraft, this 72-year-old is in no mood to stop making impressive equipment!

After serving the Army for 23 years, Vivek decided to retire early. His calling, which is to innovate devices, he decided would now be used to change lives.

He avoided the hustle and bustle of the city and moved to a farmhouse outside of Pune. Here, Vivek has a workshop where he gets to work on all his ideas.

Movement in Vivek’s right hand is severely hampered, though the doctors managed to reattach his arm. Despite the difficulty, Vivek is often seen tinkering with many tools in his workshop. It is from here that he built a low-cost ingenious wind-mill that helped bring a 24-hour power supply to an entire village in Himachal Pradesh. In this high altitude village called Komic, where sub-zero temperatures are a norm, power supply was almost a joke.

In 2011, Vivek’s windmill solution helped Komic enjoy uninterrupted power supply.

He went ahead and experimented with many gadgets that could provide similar solutions – his latest being a solar water pump, that is dramatically changing the lives of farmers.

The lives of farmers depend heavily on the availability of water and power to pump water to their farms. Unreliable and non-existent (in many villages) electric supply lead farmers to depend on diesel pumps.

Unsuitable for land holdings, diesel pumps are unfortunately what most of our farmers have. There is also the recurrent cost of diesel. The environmental footprint is a problem too.


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With these constraints, many farmers are unable to get themselves a water pump that will help them irrigate their land – a problem that triggers a series of struggles, including that of abandoning the farmland and moving to cities. Vivek’s aim is to pull farmers out of this misery through his solar water pumps.

He designed and built solar water pumps that are suitable for small land holdings, are portable and have no recurring costs. While a normal diesel pump costs between Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000,  and diesel around Rs 50, 000 every year, the cost of Vivek’s solar pump is a one-time investment of Rs One lakh.

Also, with zero emission, zero fuel requirement and zero noise, Vivek’s solar pump work out to be an excellent alternative to diesel pumps.

Notably, Vivek’s solar pump design grabbed the Greenpeace Innovation Challenge Award in 2013.

At the fields, Vivek has been able to create an impact that he yearned the most for.

Morawane in Maharashtra is a village with no stable electricity supply. Here, a group of eight farmers, who couldn’t afford diesel pumps, installed Vivek’s solar pump last year. They are now are boasting of flourishing farms.

Earlier, they were dependent on monsoon rains and could grow only one crop cycle in a year. With the pump ensuring uninterrupted water supply, the farmers are able to grow multiple crops throughout the year. Since the pump is portable, this group of farmers is able to take the pump to their respective fields and use it as a shared resource. This sharing model has saved them the cost of individually buying diesel pumps.

The solar pump has lifted all their water woes. Like these farmers of Morawane, more than 150 farmers across India and in Nepal are using Vivek’s solar pumps.

With Vivek’s innovation, they have been able to transform their lives dramatically.

Vivek’s pumps have also solved drinking water problems in six villages. In a tribal village called Harichiwadi situated in a hilly terrain in Maharashtra, the women had to walk down the hills to fetch water and walk up the hill with heavy pots on their heads for more than two hours. With the solar pumps installed in the village, the women now do not have to do this arduous task anymore.

“The women are thrilled about this”, says Vivek who is happy that his innovation is touching lives in more ways than one.

Find out more about Vivek Mundkur’s solar water pumps at http://www.atom-solar.com/

You can reach Vivek Mundkur at vivek.mundkur@gmail.com.  

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