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Barefoot innovators

Armed only with common sense and practical knowledge, these simple men and women have overcome challenges to create innovative machines to better their living conditions

Barefoot innovators

Kavita Kanan Chandra

The adage, ‘necessity is the mother of invention’ rings true for innovations that are taking place in the hinterland of India by barefoot innovators. Faced with challenges in their day-to-day lives due to economic hurdles, environment or geographic isolation, these common men and women use their inborn abilities, presence of mind and practical knowledge to innovate to better their living conditions. Use of indigenous, locally available materials and green technology; make their innovations cost-friendly and energy efficient.


Often these crude but promising innovations, for want of expertise and marketing, struggle to scale up beyond small niches. It is here that the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) intervenes. The NIF is an autonomous body of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, based on the Honey Bee Network philosophy, which provides institutional support to grassroots innovators and outstanding traditional knowledge holders from the unorganised sector of the society. Its chairperson is noted scientist R A Mashlekar and Executive Vice Chairperson is Prof. Anil K Gupta. A professor at IIM Ahmedabad, he is also the coordinator of Honey Bee Network and SRISTI.


The grassroots innovations that have got a fillip by NIF are spread over a wide spectrum of user-friendly technologies, traditional knowledge, machines and equipment. There are agricultural technologies, agro- machinery and post-harvest machinery, agro-based food processing machinery, dairy machinery, eco-friendly/energy conservation machinery, consumer durables, bamboo processing machinery, general purpose machinery and equipment, hand-loom and textiles-related machinery/devices, transport, engineering, new plant varieties, herbal products and traditional herbal knowledge.


If some innovations like the folding bicycle is still looking for a manufacturer than milking machine is being lapped up for marketing by a private firm.


Farmers Mohammad Mehtar Hussain and Mushtaq Ahmad from Assam have built a low-cost windmill. It is being used for salt farming in the Little Rann of Kutch. The windmill requires low-installation cost and zero-operating cost

Low-cost windmill: The higher secondary-pass farmer brothers Mohammad Mehtar Hussain and Mushtaq Ahmad from the nondescript village of Muslimghopa in Assam have built a low-cost indigenous windmill. They used local bamboo, wood, strips of old tyres, iron pieces and aluminium sheets; little did they know it would be used for salt farming in Little Rann of Kutch. They made wind turbine that rotated in abundant wind, harnessing energy to move the handle of the tube-well up and down (windmill shaft connected to handle) thus pumping water from beneath the ground continuously.


As the windmill required low-installation cost, zero-operating cost, cutting diesel expenses and labour charges by 40 per cent; a sponsored project fitted 50 windmills in Amreli district for salt farming. Fitted with tube-well, it helps in light irrigation as well as potable water


“The Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) had done a lot of research and modification on the earlier prototype to install these windmills. The farmers were satisfied and if anyone is interested we are willing to manufacture,” said Mahesh Patel of GIAN.



Milk-master: Raghava Gowda of Murulya village in Karnataka is a primary school teacher with some farm land and a small dairy farm. It was shortage of skilled labour to milk cows that prompted him to make a simple hand-operated milking machine. As milking cows was physically challenging and an automatic milking machine cost was prohibitive at Rs 70,000, Gowda made his own with trial and error. He even started his company ‘Ksheera Enterprises’ to manufacture low-cost milking machine (brand name ‘Milk Master’) so small farmers could get it at affordable prices.


The machine is simple. It uses a set of reciprocating vacuum pumps adjusted with a vacuum gauge, a suction assembly unit and an air-bubble-free steel milk canister to receive milk. The machine has simple controls and can be easily operated by women as well. (Cost of variants: Rs 14,500, Rs 27,995 and Rs 42,022)


The milking machine is making waves and recently NIF entered into an agreement with Gujarat’s Aviva Equipments Pvt Ltd for non-exclusive marketing rights for Gowda's 'Milk Master'.


A farmer and a rickshaw puller, Dharamveer Kamboj made a multi-purpose food-processing machine. It can extract juice, pulp, gel, essential oil and essence. One can use it for making puree, ketchup, paste, gel, etc

Multi-purpose food processing machine: Dharamveer Kamboj made the multi-purpose food processing machine for on-farm processing of herbs, fruits and flowers. He extracted juice and pulp from jamun, olive, amla, aloe vera, apple and other farm and forest produce. Barely educated being the youngest son among five siblings of a poor farmer in a village in Yamunanagar district (Haryana), he had worked as a farmer and a rickshaw puller. His innovative streak further improvised on the machine that could extract juice, pulp, gel, essential oil and essence. One can use it or making sauce, puree, ketchup, soup, paste and gel. It has successfully helped in employment generation for self-help groups, tribals and rural poor from Rajasthan to Nagaland. (Cost: Rs 95,000 (50 kg) and Rs 1.8 lakh (150 kg).


“My machine has electricity consumption of 1.5 kw. It makes tomato sauce from 150-200 kg of tomatoes in an hour,” said Dharamveer.


Bamboo splint machine

Bamboo splint making machine: L Ralte and L Sailo from Aizawl have made bamboo splint making machine that could make 1.2 mm thin splints at the rate of 5,000 splints/hour. In a state where bamboo grows in abundance, the resource was not optimally utilised in making splints for agarbatti incense sticks as manual splitting of bamboo required drudgery, was time consuming and needed concentration and accuracy. The machines doing the same task were prohibitively expensive for rural workers. When some entrepreneurs visited the innovators who had some previous experience of making machines, the duo diligently worked upon it to make an affordable and easy-to-operate machine. Even the whole family can work on it and this has generated employment in rural areas. Apart from agarbatti, toothpicks and ice-cream sticks could be made. (Cost: Rs 5000+transportation)


Mansukhbhai Ambabhai Jagani, a farmer from Gujarat, has made a retrofitted farm implement with a motorcycle. It is used for ploughing, sowing, inter culturing, spraying

Bullet Santi: Mansukhbhai Ambabhai Jagani of Gujrat (Mota Devaliya village in Amreli district) made a retrofitted farm implement in a motorcycle that is used for agriculture operations like ploughing, sowing, inter culturing, spraying. It also carried goods by attaching a trailer and could be easily dismantled to be used as a regular motorcycle.


“I simply replaced the rear wheel of my motorcycle with an attachment with two wheels and a multipurpose tool bar required for farming.” said Jagani.

It was adversity of nature in 1994 when Saurashtra (in Gujrat) faced severe drought and Jagani’s family were forced to sell the bullocks. Migration of farm labourers and mounting diesel cost of tractors forced Jagani to look for some alternative. It was poverty that forced him to quit school just after class V but he pursued farming and welding machines with passion. He managed to buy a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle that was made into a cost effective plough, converting it into a diesel one with 5.5 hp engines. (Cost Rs 40,000).

Folding bicycle

Folding bicycle: Sandeep Kumar of Muzaffarpur (Bihar) had to leave his bicycle in the city when he went to his Ramnagar village in West Champaran.

This irked him so he bought a bicycle frame from a scrap shop and worked religiously on it at an engineering unit after college hours. His innovation was a foldable bicycle that could be packed in a large 20-inch bag and transported easily.

Son of a village shopkeeper he repaired people’s gadgets and borrowed from sister to fund his innovation. Named as SANDSIMA, it is a complete knockdown collapsible unit where the handle portion folds first followed by the central frame portion.

No tool is required for unfolding. The postal assistant now is waiting for a manufacturer to show interest so more and more people benefit.

Prof Anil K Gupta is a professor at IIM Ahmedabad. He is the coordinator of Honey Bee Network and SRISTI

L Sailo from Aizawl have made a bamboo splint-making machine that makes 5,000 thin splints in a hour. It can make agarbattis, toothpicks and ice-cream sticks 

L Ralte from Aizawl have made a bamboo splint-making machine that makes 5,000 thin splints in a hour. It can make agarbattis, toothpicks and ice-cream sticks 

Postal assistant Sandeep Kumar. He created a folding bicycle that can be packed in a 20-inch bag

Karnataka primary school teacher Raghava Gowda has made a simple hand-operated milking machine





National Innovation Foundation scouts knowledge and innovations across India’s rural hinterland and urban poor. The innovations are exhibited, patents are filed for innovators and all possible designing and marketing help are given.


Honey Bee Network is a crucible of like-minded individuals, innovators, farmers, scholars, academicians, policy makers, entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). . Honey Bee Network has emerged as a committed new social movement in support of knowledge rich but economically poor people.


SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions), a voluntary organization located in Ahmedabad, India. It aims to empower creative and knowledgeable people but economically poor by assisting them.


GIAN (Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network) links innovation with investment and enterprise. GIAN is an incubator of grassroots innovations and traditional knowledge set up in different parts of India.





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