This 22-year-old is Helping Farmers Conserve Water via Artificial Ponds
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India is under high water stress. According to a report by NITI Aayog, over 60 per cent of the country is vulnerable to drought. In the past decade, one-third of the nation’s districts have faced more than 4 droughts. However, the worst is yet to come.
Farmers are prone to be most affected by this critical water situation. They are entirely dependent on the natural resources of water for agricultural activities as most can’t afford traditional water conservation solutions such as concrete tanks.
For ensuring consistent water supply in the fields, farmers need reasonably priced solutions. Companies all around the globe are developing solutions to ease the water scarcity but not many are working on developing ground-level initiatives.
Making a Difference
Making a difference is Avana – a business division of Emmbi Industries Limited - that aims to provide affordable range of the products to farmers for water conservation. The initiative is spearheaded by 22-year-old Maithili Appalwar who joined her parent’s business nearly three years ago.
Appalwar aims to develop affordable technologies and services to pull Indian farmers out of poverty. Focused on using water judiciously, Avana provides end-to-end water conservation solutions. Among the most successful of all are their artificial ponds.
In the last two years, Avana has developed over 5000 artificial ponds across Maharashtra and Rajasthan and saved nearly 200 billion liters of water, thus helping the farmers and villagers fulfill their daily water needs and bringing change in the socio-economic factor.
Explaining how they facilitate the farmers, Appalwar explained that Avana uses a smart optimization calculator to understand what kind and size of pond is required and start the process of building a required artificial pond for the respective farmers.
The artificial pond projects run under Avana’s flagship product, Jalasanchay - a simple yet brilliant idea - you dig a large pit in the farm and cover it with a polymer lining that does not allow the water to seep into the ground; this creates an artificial pond that captures rainwater and river surplus.
Jalasanchay costs nearly INR 1 paisa per litre per year, making it viable for farmers at the bottom of the pyramid too. Being a for-profit organization, Avana has financial dialogues with four different banks using which they connect farmers for bridge loans in case farmers are unable to afford the solution.
Avana recently collaborated with Aroehan Foundation, a non-profit organization for creating 250 small ponds for tribal communities at the Nashik-Palghar border. These ponds had a capacity of 30,000 litres and were used for domestic/household purposes.
The team also gives advises on how farmers can use water they collect through the pond judiciously. Going forward, Avana plans to automate the calculation of water usage through an app. They would use artificial intelligence and hyper-spectral imagery for helping farmers use water optimally.
“We're running a pilot on a smart app,” Appalwar said, adding, the solution will be available at INR 12,000 every 5 acre piece of land. Unlike many, Avana would not be deploying drones for taking the field images but would rather be connecting with a satellite for more accurate results.
Water Conservation – A Business Opportunity?
Water conservation makes up for a large chunk of Emmbi’s entire business operations. While the retail division (Avana) was launched nearly 3 years ago, the company has been involved with water conservation for about 10-15 years.
Organizations are seeing water conservation as a humongous business opportunity. Having a first mover advantage, Avana is already contributing 15.6 per cent to Emmbi’s turnover of INR 300 crore, as of FY 2018-19. There would be more investment in technologies and research, Appalwar said.
80 per cent of the water goes into the agricultural sector in India, which makes farmers the main focus for Avana. “Bulk of the nation's water usage comes out of agriculture and water shortage is a big enough problem to tackle. There is space for 15-30 more companies in the segment.”