Prolonged dry spells and unseasonal rainfall result in drought-like situations or water-logging in many fields across India. This leads to the destruction of crops. Here’s how an Ahmedabad-based social enterprise is helping farmers with a unique water harvesting technology.
“I was in Gujarat during the 2001 earthquake. I noticed how the temperatures soared in the state a few months after the disaster, leading to acute scarcity of water. This was followed by the monsoon, heavy rainfall and immense water logging in the fields. These were the varying challenges for the same place in different months of the year. And the important thing to notice was that each challenge could act as a solution for the other. For example, the excess water that was a disaster when above the ground could be a boon if stored underground,” says Biplab Ketan Paul.
Biplab used this idea to innovate Bhungroo – a water harvesting technique that uses an injection module to store excess rain water underground. Farmers can then use the same water for irrigation during summer and winter.
Bhungroo, which means “straw” in Gujarati, is one of the technologies delivered by Naireeta Services – a social enterprise working for eradication of poverty in India, where Biplab is the Director.
The high salinity of soil in arid regions of Gujarat and other states creates an impermeable layer that prevents rain water from seeping in. This leads to water logging and the standing water again increases the salinity of the soil. Bhungroo helps farmers in such rain-scarce and salinity-prone areas. The system consists of a pipe erected in such a way that excess water passes through it, gets filtered and accumulates in an underground well. Later, farmers use a motor to pump the water up and use it for irrigation. In this way, farmers get a chance to earn double of what they would normally make. The technology also helps avoid evaporation loss and wastage of water during the monsoon season.
The underground reservoir can hold 40 million litres of water and can supply for as long as seven months. Additionally, the non-saline rain water, when mixed with the underground saline water, brings down the salinity of the groundwater and makes it fit for agriculture.
Bhungroo comes in 17 designs for different agro-climatic zones in India and the design varies for each field. Earlier, in the initial phase, Naireeta Services was alone involved in the installation of Bhungroo. Now, with knowledge guidance from Ashoka India, a network of social entrepreneurs worldwide, the organization has adopted a partnership model. Different NGOs, cooperatives, institutions, CSR wings of organizations, etc., partner with Naireeta Services to become carriers of the technology.
The entire process of setting up Bhungroo is led by women. Naireeta Services, or the partner organizations, train members of women Self Help Groups (SHGs) in different villages.
In the first stage, these members help identify women who are below poverty line – they verify their land ownership and poverty status. Next, they measure the gradient of the land to understand whether it is suitable for the technology. Five women form one Bhungroo group, with one of them giving her land for construction. The team conducts a geohydrological study to identify the part of the land that will be conducive for erecting Bhungroo.
This is the lowest point of the catchment area because the rainwater will rush to that spot. After this, the farmers provide labour for construction and drilling.
The team drills a pipe with a diameter of five inches, which then guides the water to the subsoil aquifer at a depth of 110 feet. The aquifer is an underground layer of permeable rocks or materials like gravel, sand or silt that can contain or transmit groundwater. Once the water is saved, the atmospheric moisture in the soil helps in the growth of crops for the next month. And the stored water helps whenever required during the rest of the year.
Founded by Trupti Jain, Naireeta Services works with underprivileged women in both rural and urban India.
“Our aim at Naireeta Services is Antyodaya – a word used by Mahatma Gandhi that means serving the last person in the queue in the best possible way. In rural India, the last person is the smallest landholder who does not have any water service for his/her crop,” says Biplab.
Biplab has worked with more than 14,000 farmers and transformed 40,000 acres of barren or disaster-affected farms. Along with its partners, Naireeta has installed Bhungroo in farms across Gujarat, Jharkhand, Bundelkhand, UP, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Bihar.
The cost of Bhungroo has been subsidised under the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM). Farmers from underprivileged backgrounds, or those affected by drought, do not have to pay a single rupee for the installation. Others have to pay a subsidised fee of around Rs. 5,000. Naireeta Services charges partner organisations according to its partnership model.
Biplab, who is 46 years old, has worked in the water sector for 23 years. He left Bengal to come to Gujarat for higher studies and decided to stay back in the villages and serve the people there. During relief work after the earthquake, he organised women from the villages to develop a remediation plan for their water issues. This was when he realised that if mobilized, women can lead to high-impact social change. He developed the Bhungroo technology in the year 2000, and it took 14 years to streamline the process after many trial and error sessions. In 2015, at the UN Climate Change Conference (UNCCC), Bhungroo received the Momentum for Change Award in the Women for Result category for keeping women farmers at the centre of the innovation.
Biplab is now working on a technology for waste management in urban India as well.
“I have worked with women who had to migrate to the cities for work because farming was failing for them. Today, they are working on their own land, have their own houses and can work towards a better future,” he concludes with pride.
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