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Little guys with big hits in small towns

Sunday, 3 February 2013 - 8:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

Grassroots innovators create affordable solutions for local industry; generate revenue.

Eighteen thousand to-and-fro movements along a semi-circular set of pegs every day. That was the tedious daily labour that Laxmi Mallesham put into the traditional process of Asu, the weaving of Pochampally silk sarees. With excruciating shoulder and elbow pain allowing no more than two sarees a day, Laxmi and other women of Sharjipet village in Andhra barely made ends meet. Until Laxmi’s pain inspired her son Chintakindi Mallesham to develop an automatic loom that has now revived the dying tradition of Pochampally weaving.

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The young innovator’s efforts have led to a marked improvement in employment, productivity and marketability for Sharjipet’s people, one of several hundred success stories of grassroots innovations across the country, generating revenue for the innovator as well as the users. 

Another example is that of Sheikh Jahangir of Jalgaon, Maharashtra. The car-painter, unable to keep up with the cost of electrical air-compressors, began to fiddle with various ideas and machines until he developed a mobile spray-painting device. Now, he can place his innovation on a two-wheeler and carry it to a customer’s location, where he uses his trusty scooter’s engine to run the compressor.

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“There are thousands of Malleshams and Jahangirs in the country but too few institutions to support their ideas,” says Anil K Gupta, executive vice chairperson of the government-run National Innovation Foundation (NIF), and founder of the Honey Bee Network (HBN). “If such innovations are encouraged they could bring about much-needed social change.” HBN and NIF have built a database of more than 1,60,000 ideas from across 545 districts with the NIF pitching to turn some into value-added technologies.

For example, Mushtaq Ahmad Dar of Anantnag in Jammu & Kashmir developed a mechanised walnut-cracker, relieving thousands of people of the tedium of cracking millions of walnuts every month. Walnuts are a major produce of Kashmir and roughly over 1 lakh metric tons of walnuts are produced each year. A man cracking open walnuts manually, non-stop and very fast, can manage about 10kg per hour. Mushtaq’s prototype, which took him a month to develop, had an investment of Rs3,000 that was later reimbursed by the NIF. His machine now processes around 80kg of walnut per hour and 20kg of almonds per hour, without damaging the fruit. NIF filed a patent in Mushtaq’s name and supported it with technical inputs and finances. While imported machines cost over Rs70,000, his local solution cost around Rs10,000. “This is of immediate relevance to thousands of households in the Kashmir valley who are engaged in the dry-fruit trade,” says Mushtaq.

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These innovations are environment friendly and sustainable, and a majority of the ideas and materials are derived from local surroundings. One example of that is Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a Gujarat-based potter who designed a non-stick pan made of clay. A steal for Rs50 or Rs100, this pan consumes much less cooking gas. For this, Mansukhbhai was supported with an investment of Rs1.8 lakh under the Micro-Venture Innovation Fund (MVIF) of the NIF. “The system in India is such that no one recognises creativity shown by the poor. There is a complete lack of understanding,” says Brig P Ganesham, who collaborates with HBN in Andhra Pradesh. “The guys who innovate are very close to nature and their inventions are useful for rich and poor alike.”

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