Typically, rural innovators are considered copycats who frugally create an ad hoc ingenuity for a makeshift arrangement. However, there are some genuine inventors in the remote rural corners of India who never get any recognition or reward for their ideas. While no one recognizes them, there is also the danger of someone stealing the intellectual property of many of these innovations and creating copycat solutions.
The National Innovation Foundation was established in order to search these grassroots innovators and recognize them through the National Biennial Competition for Innovations. NIF has not only worked as a formal platform for recognizing such innovators, but also helped them commercialize their ideas into products.
The best of the award winning eco-friendly ideas created by grassroots innovators that were discovered by NIF are presented here –
Indian households use non-stick frying pans that are made of Teflon coating, which is a hi-tech innovation developed in the west. However, it would be surprising to know that tribal communities use mud pots and clay utensils that have a natural non-stick coating! Dhanak and Bhil communities of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh have traditionally been using naturally available Lac obtained from the secretion of an insect, Laccifer lacca.
While Lac is mainly used for coating decorative items like bangles and wood material, scientific evidence proves that it is non-toxic as well. The tribe’s innovation lies in selecting a particular kind of Lac and creating a process of applying it on the clay surface by using natural binding agents. To make these utensils, only a particular kind of clay is used and only four or five types of earthen utensils such as tava and kadhai are made.
Farmers across rural India are adept in preparing herbal medications for controlling insect pests that harm their crops. NIF has documented many of these herbal medications used in pest control, but there is a rare innovation of herbal medication for promoting poultry health.
Three women from Nambol, Manipur, Oinam Ibetombi Devi, Sarangthen Dasumati Devi, Nameirakpam Sanahambi Devi used leaves of a local plant to be ground into paste and added to bird feed. After feeding this medication to birds for 5-7 days, tests showed much better anti-coccidial efficacy in comparison to the untreated birds and the standard drug Salinomycin (in terms of minimizing intestinal lesion). A significant reduction in fecal cyst output and an increase in body weight was observed among treated birds.
Manihar Sharma, a 65-year-old Manipuri is a mechanic and a serial innovator, who invented a number of useful innovations. In his hometown Imphal, women are mostly involved in silk reeling from Muga silk cocoons. He realized the difficulty for women in judiciously balancing their available time between household activities and silk reeling. To simplify the tedious task of reeling silk, Manihar came up with a solar powered silk reeling machine that can simultaneously perform reeling and spinning of silk.
Since most places in Manipur are in remote hills, they do not have access to electricity, so Manihar Sharma used solar power as source of energy. His machine can help women to simultaneously carry out their household work as well as the silk reeling task with optimum output. His machine is simple enough for an unskilled person to operate it.
Ahmedabad-based Arvindbhai Patel got an idea of inventing a natural water cooler when his wife applied cold packs on his forehead to reduce his fever. This cotton cold pack gave him an idea of using the same principle to develop a natural water cooler that doesn’t need electricity. He passed water through copper coils covered with cotton cloth, which is continuously moistened by a dripper. Evaporation of water from the cloth wrapped on the coil cools the water inside.
The cooler has a capacity of 100-150 litres storage and is useful for supplying cool drinking water in hot summer, particularly in areas where electricity is absent or erratic. Arvindbhai Patel obtained a patent for this cooler, which was facilitated by SRISTI/GIAN West. NIF has also supported him under the Micro Venture Innovation Fund scheme for commercializing his cooler technology and transferring it to entrepreneurs.
While NIF typically identifies innovators who are mostly illiterate rural folk, it has recognized some well educated inventors as well. 22 year old Imli Toshi from Nagaland is a post-graduate in computer applications who had a keen interest in machines and agricultural implements. Toshi thought of possible ways to lift water from a nearby water stream to a certain height so that it can reach his farm house.
This thought led to the development of the innovative pump that uses no energy except the power of the running stream. He devised a water pumping device that is submerged in flowing water and the linear velocity of the water is used to drive the blade shaft that is coupled to the pump, which provides the rotational velocity of the pump. Toshi’s pump can lift water up to a height of one meter.