Three years ago, farmers of Dudhanwadi village in Maharashtra’s Satara district were worried over their sericulture crop as their region fell under the rain shadow region of the Western Ghats.

Village pradhan (chief) Bopatrao Jadhav looked at various options since the village was rain-fed. This led him to Avana, a division of Mumbai-based Emmbi Industries. Avana came up with an affordable solution on water conservation called Jalasanchay.

The solution revolves around creating an artificial pond with a recyclable polymer lining at the bottom. This preserves the water and stops it from seeping into the earth. It can be provided at one-tenth the cost of traditional methods to conserve water.

Frugal innovation

“It is a frugal innovation. You dig a pit on or near the farm. You line it with a material that prevents seepage of water so that farmers can store excess water and use it when they need it later,” said Maithili Appalwar, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Avana.

Impressed with Avana’s offer for a solution, Jadhav called for a meeting of the people in the village in which some growers came forward to set up ponds on their farms. The ponds were set up and soon, the results began to show.

Each farmer benefited by at least ₹25,000 that year through sericulture farming. Within a year, 48 such ponds were set up in Dudhanwadi.

In the four years of its existence, Avana has set up nearly 15,000 ponds through its Jalasanchay solution and conserving 54 billion litres of water that has helped over 81,000 people across seven States. It has also resulted in the farmers’ income nearly doubling.

Two challenges

In its path to providing Jalasanchay, Avana faced two major challenges. The first was to make the solution so affordable that “even farmers at the bottom of the pyramid” could use it. The second was to make it environmentally sustainable.

“We came up with liners that are durable, affordable and can be fully recycled. Once we got the fabric (used as the liner) ready we saw that leakages happened through the joints in the fabric. So, we designed the world’s widest fabric so the number of joints got reduced and consequently the seepage,” said Appalwar.

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The liner is being produced at the parent firm Emmbi Industries’ Silvassa unit using its patented “Protex” technology.

“Jalasanchay is an affordable solution to store rainwater, and also raises groundwater levels,” she said, adding that she and her colleagues got their hands dirty visiting various villages and working out partnerships with panchayats.

Spread awareness

Avana has also got into partnerships with non-governmental organisations to educate people about Jalasanchay. Overall, the firm, Appalwar’s brainchild, has helped save 3.5 billion litres of water on over 6,000 farms. In addition, it arranges for bank loan facilities and offers post-sales service.

Led by Appalwar, Avana’s team with 150 young workers is working with farmers on various farm solutions in Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana.

Kapila Murghas bag

Another innovation that Avana has come up with is the “Kapila Murghas” bag, which can store fodder for cattle using a new fabric that is embedded with “fodder tex” technology. This is vastly different from the bags made from used recycled fabric that is available in the market.

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The bag is four times stronger than existing bags in the market and has been endorsed by Baramati Krishi Vigyan Kendra and Gokul Dairy, Kolhapur. The bag has a quality food grade liner that assures safety of the fodder and cattle.

Avana’s solutions have fetched Maithili Appalwar, an Industrial Engineering graduate from the Georgia Institute of Technology, the Georgia Tech’s Environment Leader Award and KS2 Technology’s Most Innovative Technology Award. Besides this, she has won the 2019 The Diana Award, a prestigious award conferred on a young person for social and humanitarian work. She has been recognised on Georgia Tech’s 40 Under 40 list as one the most promising innovators, entrepreneurs, and trendsetters.