Clean Tech

Big ideas for the small farmer

TV Jayan | Updated on: Dec 04, 2018
Henrik Johansson preparing to install the pump in a village in Bihar

Henrik Johansson preparing to install the pump in a village in Bihar

Solar power for  the Spowdi pump

Solar power for the Spowdi pump

A close-up of the Spowdi system

A close-up of the Spowdi system

Portable solar micro irrigation pumps can help conserve water in one-acre fields

Swedish entrepreneur Henrik Johansson has his task cut out for him. The brain behind an innovative solar-based water distribution system that is capable of delivering the right quantity of water for irrigating fields may first have to work on the minds of Indian farmers who normally think flooding is the best way to water their farm.

The solar-powered pump that Johansson’s team developed through a decade-long research and development has some unique features that make it ideal for small farmers; the pump runs on solar, it’s portable, weighs only 15 kg and, more importantly, it helps conserve water, helping not just the farmer, but the world. “Excess withdrawal of water for irrigation has been leading to the dwindling of the groundwater table in most parts of the world. It’s time we found a way to deal with this. Ours is an attempt towards this goal,” says Johansson, who was in the Capital last week to participate in an event, ‘Sustainability by Sweden – Showroom India’.

Johansson is the CEO of a start-up firm called Spowdi, which stands for Solar Powered Water Distribution. The system that the firm has developed uses a small, foldable, solar panel to generate sufficient electricity (70 watt) to run a proprietary power management box which, in turn, operates a specially-designed submersible pump.

“This pump, which costs around $500, is capable of pumping 25,000 litres of water on a bright sunny day, which is actually good enough for small-family farmers who own up to one acre of land,” remarks Johansson. In India, there are about 125 million one-acre-family farmers.

But not all of them will find this unique water distribution system useful, admits the Swedish entrepreneur. One limitation of the product is that it can draw water only from a depth of up to 10 metres. “This is a limitation, which makes it unsuitable for nearly 70 per cent of Indian farmers. But it is very useful for the other 30 per cent farmers, which is roughly 40 million farmers. It is this set of farmers we want to target,” he says.

“A small Indian farmer who uses diesel pumps spends about $300 for irrigating the field for each crop. If he or she takes three crops a year, it costs around $900 for just watering the farm. In other words, the farmer can recover the cost of Spowdi in less than a year,” Johansson observes.

Up and running

The cost would come down much further for most Indian farmers as there is a subsidy scheme for those using solar pumps in which the government pays back nearly 80 per cent of the cost. Spowdi has already demonstrated the effectiveness of its system by installing one solar pump in an inaccessible island near Patna in Bihar.

“We installed it in June this year. It works wonderfully well despite the hostile conditions,” says Johansson, who joined hands with a Bengaluru-based firm, Emvee Photovoltaic Power Private Ltd, last week, to manufacture these solar pumps in India.

Published on December 04, 2018
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