Biplab Ketan Paul, an Ahmedabad-based innovator whose irrigation system, bhungroo (‘straw’ or ‘hollow pipe’ in Gujarati), based on rainwater harvesting, has revolutionised the lives of farmers here.
The high level of salinity in many regions of Gujarat and other states of India often creates an impermeable white or brown layer that prevents water from penetrating the soil, leaving the surface waterlogged.
“This standing water adds to the salinity as many minerals present in the soil also get dissolved in the water, which in the dry season creates a salty layer,” says Biplab.
Each year, 12 million hectares (29 million acres) of land are lost to encroaching deserts. That’s land where 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown.
People living off the land often feel they have no choice but to migrate.
Bhungroo is a Gujarati word meaning “straw” – a pipe between 10-15cm (4-6in) diameter is inserted into the soil at places where waterlogging is a problem.
So during monsoons. the excess water drains down the pipe, gets filtered, and then flows down to natural aquifers deep below the soil where it can stay until it is needed during the dry seasons.
It means that in the monsoon season farmers can grow crops because their land is not too wet. In the dry seasons of winter or summer they can use pumps to draw up the stored water and irrigate their land.
“Due to heavy rains during monsoons, followed by a dry spell in summers we used not to have any crops – and then we had to go to other areas of Gujarat for work,” says farmer Kaser Behan.
But now she and her family have a bhungroo, “we can easily grow two crops in a year”.
One bhungroo unit can irrigate up to 8-10 hectares, and construction costs can vary from $750 to $1,500 (£1,100) depending upon the location and size of the project.
So far, Naireeta has constructed more than 3,500 bhungroos across India and beyond, and says its aim is “antyodaya”, a word used by Mahatma Gandhi that means serving the last person in the queue in the best possible way.