Girish Badragond creates low-cost devices to make the Indian farmers’ lives just a little bit easier By ARCHISMAN DINDA
of all the scientific progress of the country and innovations by India’s institutes of excellence, solving irrigation problems is mostly left to the grandiose scheme of large infrastructure projects like linking rivers while ignoring simple technologies that could bring much relief to the parched lands.
Meet Girish Badragond, a 33-yearold innovator in the southern Indian state of Karnataka who has been instrumental in bringing low-cost innovations within the reach of farmers.
Badragond hails from the suburban town of Bijapur in Karnataka who came to Bangalore in 2006 armed with a laptop, a wireless router and one-way bus fare. Now, eight years later, he is partner at Santepp Systems, a fast growing proprietary firm in the field of agrarian technology.
Simple innovations like borewell scanners, micro irrigation systems and the bird repeller are not only bringing smiles back on the faces of the farmers, but they are also challenging the myth that use of technology in agriculture is a cost-intensive exercise.
“Both my parents are farmers and I know the problems they face. My innovations are based on already available technology which are being used to solve some of the problems of India’s farmers,
” says Badragond, sitting in his Bangalore office.
“In our village, huge sums of public money was spent in digging borewells which became dysfunctional within a few years as inflow of water stopped. This problem led to the innovation of the borewell scanner, which can ascertain whether the spot chosen has the required level of underground water which can sustain the well for coming years,” he adds.
The borewell scanner Badragond invented has a camera with a flash. It can rotate 180 degrees in the horizontal space. The equipment can click pictures, check inflow and outflow of the water and provide reliable reports within an hour.
His other significant innovation to reduce the problem of irrigation is the ‘Advanced Mode Micro Irrigation System’, which allows the farmer to water his farm by just sending an SMS.
“This irrigation controller helps the farmers to operate the pump sets and irrigation valves from remote places without being physically present. The farmer is saved from travelling to his farm every time he needs to water his crop. It also helps to regulate the flow of water and feeds only that much water as required. So water wastage is minimised and the available water is put to maximum use,” says Badragond.
Solar sensors are inserted in the soil at various intervals whch send signal to the unit. The unit will automatically turn on the motor for water flow according to priority and turn itself off once the fields are adequately watered.
“We hear of lack of water, but at times, farmers tend to water their farms more than required. This is especially true during the rainy season. This machine takes care of that problem. The machine will decide whether the farm needs to be watered or not,” he added.
A single system can irrigate up to 10 acres of land and costs just 1,50,000 Indian Rupees ($2500). The basic version of the machine can cover two to three acres of land and costs just 25,000 Indian Rupees (a little over $400).
Such innovations come easily to this man who did not get the opportunity to study beyond class 12 but has been dabbling with his skills from an early age. “I could not afford to go to any institute to study. Whatever I have learnt is from magazines and the rest I have taught myself,” says Badragond whose company is now being supported by the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and National Innovation Foundation (NIF).
Badragond’s innovations are not restricted to irrigation systems alone. In his mission to provide low-cost innovations to millions of farmers plagued by an environment where crop failures and farmers’ suicides are stark realities, he has come up with something else which prevents birds from devouring the yield.
“Birds pose a big nuisance to the cultivators, specially those growing cash crops and fruits. Every year they lose crores due to birds pecking away at their harvest. Either they have to employ a large number of farm labourers which is not only cost intensive but at times futile,” says Badragond.
His equipment with eight speakers and a timer repels the birds. “The farms are mostly located in the outskirts of the villages and noises won’t trouble the villagers. The main unit is kept near a power point. This equipment has three days of battery backup,” he says as he demonstrates his innovation.
“Most of my equipment are gaining popularity as farmers are slowly turning towards technology in farming. The very idea that technology is costly and meant for those who are educated is a myth that I want to break through my work,” Badragond says with a twinkle in his eyes. “It is also all about educating the farmer and installing a sense of pride in the work he is doing for his country and the larger community.”
Other low-cost innovations of his like solar inverter, solar insecticide sprayer, soil and humidity sensors are also growing in popularity as various agriculture institutes have started using them to showcase the importance of incorporating technology in farming.
For urban dwellers, one of Badragond’s innovations can bring in much-needed relief. Those who love gardening can now go for long vacations without the guilt of coming home to half-dead plants.
The equipment switches on the water flow every day at a prescribed time and stops after a certain time.
“There is one sensor-based model and the other is a timer-based model. Both can be easily installed by individuals in their own gardens without having to call the local electrician. The system will ensure that your plants are watered when you are out,” says the changemaker who has brought technology to the fields of yield without burning a hole in the farmer’s pocket.