While looking for a low-cost alternative to pump water in their field for winter crops, Mohammad Mehtar Hussain (38) and his younger brother, Mushtaq Ahmad (34) developed a simple windmill made up of bamboo and tin sheets. Their effort was recognized by National Innovation Foundation – India (NIF) in its Fourth National Biennial Award, 2007 . Their windmill later found applicability in the salt farming regions of Gujarat for pumping up underground brine.
Mehtar and Mushtaq both completed their higher secondary and got involved in agriculture. The family owns two acres of land, which the brothers jointly look after. NIF provided them monetary support to start a workshop facility to enable them continue their work on innovations and also help fellow innovators undertake specific work for their own innovations at the facility.
The bamboo windmill at Assam
Mehtar and his brother while growing paddy in winter season (also called bodo paddy), needed irrigation from the well. Continuous pumping by hand involves a lot of effort and drudgery. At the same time, pumping out water by using diesel sets was a big drain on their resources. He pondered over the problem and looked around for possible options. Seeing wind as a viable source of energy, he thought if he could develop a large wheel, which could run on wind power, and connect this wheel (turbine) to the handle of the hand pump, he might pump out water continuously as the turbine rotates.
Both of them then started building a windmill unit, using locally available materials such as bamboo, wood, strips of old tyres, pieces of iron, etc. The first prototype became functional in only four days with the help of a local carpenter. Their windmill actuated bore-well pumping unit consists of a tall tower structure made of two parallel bamboo posts supported by two inclined bamboo posts each. An iron shaft is mounted on bearings near the top of the tower, ends of which rest on the parallel bamboo posts on either side. At the centre of the shaft, a wind turbine with four blades is mounted. The shaft is connected to the tube well handle on the ground through mechanical linkages (crank lever mechanism). As the turbine rotates, due to motion of the wind, the shaft also rotates. Through the mechanical linkages, rotary motion of shaft is converted to reciprocating motion of the lever of the hand pump, which in turn pumps water from the tube well continuously. Since the supporting framework is made of bamboo, hence, the final product costs only Rs 4500, which is very low as compared to commercially available windmills, which cost over Rs. 60,000.
Salt farming in Gujarat
India is the third largest salt producing country in the world with an average annual production of about 157 lakh tonnes. The state of Gujarat contributes around 70% of it. The Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) produces 21 per cent of total salt production of India. It is estimated that 54,000 salt workers (Agarias) are engaged in the salt making in the state and more than 10,000 Agaria families are involved in inland salt farming in the LRK during the salt season.
Salt workers are some of the poorest people in the state who have been using some of the oldest technologies for lifting saline water and performing other operations for salt making. The use of counterpoise, a thousand year old technology to lift water, has not undergone practically any improvement. It requires two people, one for lowering or lifting the counterpoise and the other for straining the water to the right channel. Many agarias now also use diesel gensets to pump up brine. In a coastal region with saline ground water and saline winds, working under the sun for stirring the water in the salt panes is hard work. Furthermore, long term exposure to salt can be extremely harmful to the health of the salt farmer, often resulting in ailments of the feet and arms and distress during old age. Given the ecological and economic hardships, it is not surprising that they are extremely vulnerable in various economic and social exchanges.
The salt panning work starts somewhere in October-November and continues for five to six months. For the first two months water is required twenty four hours for the next two-three months, water is required only during the day. Depending upon the quality and quantity of saline ground water available at various places, it is decided by the farmers to go for the two types of available harvesting in the region- wadaguru-one time salt harvesting per season or karkash-three times salt harvesting per season. For karkash type of harvesting, the availability of water and salinity should be more than the wadaguru type. The crystals of salt obtained in wadaguru type are bigger and clear, as the precipitation is done over a longer period of time whereas the salt crystals obtained in karkash type are smaller and brighter. Either of the two crops is done by the farmer per season. The price range for the procurement of salt by the companies varies between Rs 80 - Rs. 125 per tonne with the average being Rs 100 per tonne. The karkash salt gives additional Rs 5 - Rs 10 per tonne to the farmer than the wadaguru salt. Zipta herb is used to precipitate the salt from the standing water and is procured from the border areas. Herb of nearly Rs 1500 is required per pan (100’ x 250’).
The average land holding of the agarias working in the LRK region is about 10-15 pans of size 100’ x 110’ approximately. The diesel pumps used by the farmers commonly come between the price ranges of Rs. 15000 for local brands to Rs. 25000 for the branded ones. Under the operating conditions, these pumps work typically for three to four years with annual maintenance expenditure ranging between Rs 3000-4000 excluding labour cost as the farmers themselves are adept in repairing these. These pumps use crude oil costing between Rs. 6000 and Rs. 7000 for a barrel of 200 litres.
From East to West: The Windmill travels
With a view to improve the lives of the salt farmers and reduce drudgery (where manual labour is involved) and emission (where diesel pumps are used), Gujarat Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network- West (GIAN W) with support from National Innovation Foundation – India (NIF) undertook initiative to diffuse low cost windmills in salt farming areas.
The salt farmers showed a lot of interest in the windmill and subsequently an experimental demonstration was made near Dhangadhra, Little Rann of Kutchh, in association with VIKAS & SAVE, Ahmedabad based NGOs working for empowerment of salt farmers in Gujarat, in January 2008. Based on the feedback received, GIAN W got the design improved and developed a multi-directional model, which it got installed at Little Rann of Kutchh with the help of VIKAS and at Sasan Gir through AKRASP for pumping water from tube well for irrigation in April 2008. With the help of an innovator, Banjibhai Mathukia, a static wind mill was also installed in the village Kalawad, Junagad district of Gujarat for trial by GIAN W in July 2008. Many windmills were installed at LRK during the period 2008-2010 for demonstration and trial basis, which found encouraging results. These demonstrations and long duration trials of wind mills at various locations helped GIAN W to study the basic performance of wind mill design developed by innovators Mehtar and Mustaq. The results from these trials were used to further improve the design of the windmills in consultation with the innovators. The IPR of the innovators has been protected (1367/KOL/2008) and the benefits go back to them in a fair manner.
Looking at the different needs to make the wind mill more efficient and adaptable by the farmers and to adopt large scale trials GIAN W and Alstom Foundation, France joined hands. With support of Alstom Foundation, GIAN W carried out major modifications in design and developed a robust design of windmill suitable for pumping water after consultation with experts at Alstom Wind. GIAN tied up with M/s Chaudhary Designers & Fabricators, a reputed manufacturing firm of Ahmedabad involved in precision fabrication of engineering items for the last 30 years. GIAN entered into agreement with Chaudhary Designers & fabricators for manufacturing and installation of 50 wind mills under project. 25 of these have already been installed at Kathivadar and Kadiali villages located nearer to Pipavav Port in Amreli district by GIAN W.
GIAN W also involved EQDC (Electronics and Quality Development Centre), a Government authorized testing agency, and IIT Gandhinagar to carry out the scientific testing of the wind mill. In one of their test reports, EQDC have reported an average discharge of 1476 litre / hr @ 14.36 km/hr wind velocity for these windmills.
Economic and social benefits
The use of an alternate method of pumping water, i.e. windmill, freed at least one person in the family. Typically the women to attend to the other household and livelihood related matters. It saves about Rs 50,000 worth of diesel in a season of six months in case diesel engine was used. Using the wind mill, now the salt workers do not have to rely on labour much and can thus make a saving of an average Rs.28000/- season per person. Similarly, saving per acre of land per season comes to be Rs. 30,000/- . The use of windmill results in eliminating drudgery as well in cases where manually water was pumped.
Economics of a windmill powered hand pump used for pumping brine water is overwhelming as farmers can easily recover their investment amount in less than eight months (one single season of salt farming from September to May) is important as this will as this will prevent spilling over of high interest debt over non-productive seasons of the salt farmer (June –August). More importantly, installing a windmill based pump is akin to buying an insurance against losses and this would considerably reduce risks and therefore vulnerability of the salt farmer.
Apart from working like a profit linked insurance scheme for the salt farmer, the innovation should result in the reduction of 5 tonnes of carbon emissions for every 100 tonnes of salt produced. On an average every windmill powered hand pump should generate 5 Carbon Emission Reductions (CERs) certificates worth Rs 3750 (US$75).
Following the success of the low cost windmill for pumping underground saline water, GIAN W is also experimenting with a windmill for generating power. In June 2011, it also installed one power generating windmill at village Kadiyali. The windmill has been installed near to the small hut so that batteries, inverters and other instruments can be kept safely. Multi blade rotor has been used for power generating windmill as the rpm and initial torque achieved is quite good.
In the next phase, GIAN W plans to install another 25 windmills in other areas of Gujarat. Seeing the success of the windmills, Department of science and Technology, Govt. of India has also suggested diffusing them on a mass scale in the coastal regions of the country.