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Low-cost innovations make life easier for rural poor

Social entrepreneurs come up with innovations to address routine problems

T E Narasimhan  |  Chennai 

Santosh Ostwal

Often, people living on the margins of society don’t need path-breaking innovations to improve the quality of life. They need simple innovations that will make their daily life easier, and a number of social entrepreneurs have come up with precisely such innovations.

For instance, Pune-based Ossian Agro Automation Pvt Ltd invented Nano Ganesh, a GSM mobile-based remote control system exclusively for use with water pump sets in agricultural areas. The system allows farmers to address their routine problems in operating the pumps, said Santosh Ostwal, chief executive officer of Ossian Agro.

Using the device, a farmer can control the pumps from any distance. He can check the availability of power supply at the pump end, the on/off status of the pump and, in some models, he even receives an alert if there is an attempt to steel the cable or pump.

Ostwal, a graduate in electrical engineering who invented the system, says that by simply making a phone call, a farmer can switch the motor on or off from wherever he is. This is the first time that such a “remote control” that uses wireless-link technology has been made available to farmers.

Ossian Agro has installed 10,000 systems and is now planning to tie up with Jain Irrigation to spread across the country. Ostwal added that across the country there are about 50 million pump sets and to increase penetration, Ossian is planning to tie up with mobile operators to reach out to these farmers.

Another example is Chennai-based Venkat Subramanian, founder and CEO of E-farm, a farm-to-home supply chain platform for procuring and delivering fruit and vegetables transparently, economically and efficiently.

The company ties in farmers, intermediaries, logistics providers, distributors and small-time retailers, all the way up to local roadside vendors, into a single chain backed by a quality information system to deliver fresh, low-priced farm produce. Using E-farm’s SMS-based solution, farmers match buyer and seller with prices at which they want to buy and sell. Transparency is one of the key features here, said Subramanian.

Membrane Filters is a Pune-based start-up whose product, Jal Doot, uses National Chemical Laboratory technology on ultra-filtration membranes to filter out viruses and bacteria from water. Jal Doot is an integrated system that uses surface water from any rural water source such as a well, lake or river.

This water is filtered in a specially designed integrated filtration system, including a patented membrane from NCL, which filters out all suspended matter, including bacteria and viruses. The entire system is mounted on a three-wheeler and delivers pure potable water directly at the doorstep in an economical way.

The product is US-India patented and 15 such Jal Doots are being operated in Maharashtra (and all by women), said Sarang Devi, vice-president of Membrane Filters (India) Pvt Ltd.

He noted that apart from providing pure water, the product is economical — the total cost of purifying and supplying a litre of water is only three paise, and if the cost of running the vehicle, the driver and fuel is included, water can be sold for 50 paise. “In India we buy a litre of water bottle for Rs 12-15,” he said.

Nuru Energy, on its part, has developed an affordable and clean lighting system for the rural poor. The Nuru Light is a multifunctional light that can be mounted on a wall, worn around the neck or made to stand freely.

It boasts of LED lights that do not break or need to be replaced. The power generators for charging the light include POWERCycle – a human-powered cycle – which can recharge portable lights in 120 minutes, enabling the lights to produce 50-60 watts of power; POWERGrid (a plug-in charger); and POWERSolar — a solar panel charger. These chargers can charge up to five lights at once.

Founded three years ago, the company has invented the world’s first pedal generator, for which it holds a patent. According to a company spokesman, pedalling for 20 minutes is enough to generate power for 30 hours.

Finally, Artoo IT Solutions Pvt Ltd has come up with a software solution designed for microfinance field staff, which takes the entire process of data collection and loan disbursement online. It will do away with paperwork, avoid innumerable delays and reduce expenses.

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First Published: Tue, July 26 2011. 00:24 IST
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