On a farm, too much water can be just as bad as none at all. That’s why Biplab Ketan Paul of India invented technology, with U.S. support, that removes excess water from fields and stores it underground for irrigation in dry weather.
“No one had a single solution for both flood and drought,” Paul said in a recent telephone interview with ShareAmerica.
Paul gained inspiration for his invention on a 2004 visit to a Miami drinking-water facility while participating in the U.S. Department of State’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). He had searched for years for a way to improve water services for India’s rural poor. In 2005 he invented Bhungroo, a technology named after the Gujarati term for a straw or hollow pipe, which is used in the system that filters and stores water underground.
Paul’s work is rooted in his belief in Gandhi’s principle of antyodaya: to improve society, it is necessary to help those most in need in the best possible way.
He and his wife, Trupti Jain — who is also an IVLP exchange alumni — co-founded Naireeta Services in 2011, a social enterprise that helps farmers learn to use the Bhungroo technology or other processes that preserve stormwater for irrigation.
Jain has focused Naireeta’s efforts on helping women farmers gain self-sufficiency. While participating in the Fulbright Program — the U.S. government’s flagship international academic exchange program — Jain discussed water issues and other climate challenges with students from around the world.
Since Naireeta’s founding in 2011, Paul reports that Bhungroo has supported nearly 20,000 farmers across India, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Ghana.
But the need is much greater, especially after COVID-19. The global pandemic shut people inside and disrupted supply chains, increasing demand for water and food. While Naireeta began expanding outside of India in 2014, that effort increased after COVID-related travel restrictions were removed.
As economies recover, Naireeta and a companion nonprofit, the Sustainable Green Initiatives Forum, have forged new partnerships in India, Southeast Asia, East Asia and Africa to bring improved stormwater management to roughly 150,000 farmers, Paul said.
That includes in Bangladesh, where more than 200 farmers have already been trained on how to use Bhungroo systems or other stormwater reuse processes. Plans are in the works to train many more there.
Expanding to Africa
A partnership with the rural development program Women Feed Africa, helps to expand Bhungroo technology and irrigation training to farmers in hot, dry climates in sub-Saharan Africa.
The United Nations says Bhungroo’s preservation of stormwater enables communities to farm for more than half the year, increasing family incomes. The technology also reduces desertification, strengthens resilience to climate change and rejuvenates biodiversity.
Paul credits U.S. government training and introductions with helping him and his wife expand Naireeta’s irrigation improvements worldwide. He is a graduate of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Securing Water for Food program (SWFF), which sought to accelerate innovations that improve water access and food production.
Although SWFF ended in 2020, USAID and partner agencies in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the European Union continue their support for sustainable agriculture through the Water and Energy for Food Challenge.
U.S. government programs helped Naireeta develop procedures to start work in different countries, conduct market analyses, train new partners and evaluate a project’s success.
“Is your monsoon crop safe from waterlogging and flood and are you able to gain any winter crop?” Paul asks of the goals Naireeta seeks to achieve for each farmer. “If yes, we are successful.”