World Water Conservation Day: Maithili Appalwar was working with a not-for-profit in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra to improve the mental health of farmers. While working on the ground, she quickly realised that rather than developing interventions to improve their mental health, solutions to help them improve their yield would be beneficial.
“Farmers, despite having 5-7 acres of land, were living in dilapidated condition. Water scarcity was coming up over and again in conversations with them as a leading cause of their distress,” she told Financial Express Online.
“They were completely dependent on rains for irrigation and if there was a scarce monsoon, farmers would lose their crop for that season,” she added.
Having worked in her family firm EMMBI Industries manufacturing specialty polymers, she leveraged her existing knowledge to launch the firm Avana in 2016 to create affordable solutions for farmers to improve their yield and livelihood. Their first product was Jalasanchay, a simple idea of creating artificial water storage ponds and lining it with a polymer sheet to ensure water doesn’t percolate to the ground.
They spent the first year innovating the product and did a pilot with over 100 farmers for product development. They had to ensure it could stand the harsh climatic conditions and hold lakhs of liters of water. One of the major changes was introduced in 2017 when they decided to double the width of the panels that were joint together, using heat, to create one huge lining sheet. Earlier the panels were 15 meters long and six-feet wide. The rationale was to reduce the joints in the sheet to decrease the chances of leakage.
“We created a new loom to produce the polymer sheet that was double the size, almost 13 and a half foot wide which reduced the chance of leakage by 50%,” she said.
“Right now we’re not the only company selling polymer liners but we are the company with the world’s widest woven polythene-based panels,” she added.
The most challenging part was convincing farmers to invest Rs 2 lakhs as the initial one-time cost for lining the 2,000 square meters pond. But, what helped was the outcomes of farmers from the pilot. “We kept track of their income, the number of growing seasons they got and in many cases, we saw their income doubled. Once we had the data, it became easy to convince others,” said the firm’s COO Yash Punjabi. To ensure farmers get their bang for the buck, they also provide a five-year product warranty.
They have supplied to the farmers in the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Their biggest order was from Florida in the US for the 2700-acre pond.
Cut to 2021, Appalwar claims that the firm has installed Jalasanchay in around 20,000 ponds and has an annualised revenue of Rs 70 crore.
Next on the cards is a smart water pump starter to enable farmers to start and stop their water pump in the field remotely.