Anna Saheb, a seventy year old farmer living in Sadalga panchayat in Belgaum district was a betel vine farmer for as long as he could remember. Poor prices of betel leaf forced him to switch over to tobacco cultivation for a few years. He then switched over to sugarcane for better returns and during this period, started thinking about the sprinkler irrigation system. By studying commonly available sprinkler systems, he developed his own design to suit the requirements of the sugarcane crop. Upon successfully testing the raingun, he refined it by adding nozzles of various sizes for discharging water, and introducing a locking system for part circle irrigation operation. The raingun was named Chandraprabhu, after a Jain Tirthankar.

While the raingun has been developed with sugarcane in mind, it can also be applied with excellent results to a number of other crops such as groundnut, tapioca, onion, potato etc.

The Chandraprabhu Raingun

The raingun irrigation system has to be appreciated in the light of current irrigation practices. An overwhelming majority of farmers still continue to practice unplanned irrigation (i.e. flood irrigation). The efficiency of such methods is very low and is estimated at 40 per cent by one national study (the remainder is losses owing to seepage and evaporation). What is more, as a result of subsidized power supply to farmers, the common practice is to keep the pump sets running for hours on end. This leads to an even greater waste of precious water resources. This also precipitates the national water crisis, which is so acute that the very sustainability of agriculture is being threatened. Further, demand for water in the industrial and domestic sectors is also growing at a very rapid pace, influencing the amount of water that can be supplied for agriculture.

The solution therefore is to go in for planned micro irrigation systems, of which there are various types. Depending on the crop, there is drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation and raingun irrigation (a subset of sprinkler irrigation). All of these offer high water savings (to the tune of 50 percent) and additional benefits. India has much to gain from promoting micro irrigation systems. It is in this context that we see the Chandraprabhu raingun as a path-breaking farmer friendly technology.

Features of the raingun

The Chandraprabhu raingun is a powerful mega sprinkler that throws a large amount of water (upto 500 ltrs per minute) to a good distance (radius of 90 feet and even more) as artificial rain. It offers a number of benefits to the farmer. It reduces water consumption by 50 per cent as compared to flood irrigation in achieving the same yield. As a result of the reduced water consumption with the raingun irrigation system, large savings accrue. Irrigation time comes down (50 percent time is saved) , and power consumption comes down. Also, raingun irrigation is less labour intensive than flood irrigation. It increases crop yield by 10 percent, as sugarcane farmers have experienced. Fertilizers can also be applied with the raingun irrigation system, reducing consumption of fertilizers. Irrigation with the raingun washes away pests like aphids, white flies etc.

The raingun irrigation systems supports the highly recommended practice of trash mulching in sugarcane, which is a process of converting trash into nutrient for the crop. As the cane grows, the trash is stripped from the cane so that the cane is protected from pests and diseases. At the same time, the trash is valuable as it has a lot of nutrients. However, farmers do not make ready use of this available nutrient and resort to clearing it or setting it on fire to manage the huge quantity of trash. Mulching is a practice whereby the trash is used as a soil cover to aid moisture retention, prevent proliferation of weeds and the trash itself is eventually converted into nutrition. The raingun irrigation system gives farmers the ability to practice trash mulching successfully.

The potential

The raingun is a very valuable technology as it can play an important role in conservation of water in irrigation, a priority at the farm as well as the national level. Not surprisingly, since its development, the Chandraprabhu raingun has received a lot of recognition. In 2002, the Chandraprabhu raingun was selected for the 3rd prize by the National Innovation Foundation, a body constituted by the Department of Science and Technology,Government of India to recognize, respect and reward grassroots technological innovations and outstanding traditional knowledge experts.

The raingun has also made an impact in the marketplace. Seven hundred rainguns have been sold over the last five to six years. The growing sales are a testimony to its potential. The Chandraprabhu raingun occupies a strong position in the raingun market as the nearest competitor costs twice as much.

Benefits for farmers

The following experiences shared by two users are highly educative in helping us get a better idea of the impact the Chandraprabha raingun can have on the farmer economy. These farmers were interviewed as part of a wider study conducted in June 2002.

Mr. Vardhaman, cane farmer, Bellad Baigewadi, Chikodi, Belgaum, read about the raingun technology in the new products section of a magazine. However, he found the cost too high and kept searching for other rainguns. It was then that he got to know of the Chandraprabhu raingun. He visted Anna Saheb¡¦s farm and saw for himself the system design and performance, and he has never looked back since.

Initially, he used the Chandraprpabhu raingun only for its water saving benefits and got back 80% of the investment in one year. It was only with time that he realized its other benefits. Now, he feels the rainguns have a lot of benefits to offer ¡V he says even people with lots of water are now using the Chandraprabhu raingun, because it helps apply the required amount of water and thus prevents damage to soil resulting from application of excessive water.

Ajit Khemlapure, cane farmer, Bellad Baigewadi, Chikodi, Belgaum, has eighteen acres of land. With flood irrigation he found only fourteen acres could be cultivated. If he cultivated all eighteen acres with the available water, the entire crop suffered due to a shortfall in irrigation. He was looking for a technology which would help him overcome this issue, when he came across the Chandraprabhu raingun. Now he found that he could irrigate all eighteen acres. Further, for this acreage of cultivation, he now needed only one labourer whereas earlier he used to use two.

After three years of use, he feels that the raingun has improved the quality of the soil. The yield has also gone up from forty tonnes per acre to fifty tonnes per acre. Also, he can cultivate the fourth ratoon now whereas with flood irrigation he could cultivate only three ratoons. This also represents attractive savings. The one problem he experiences is that the spraying gets affected when the wind is strong.

Establishing a Raingun Microenterprise

At the Rural Innovations Network (RIN), we saw the of potential, as it could not only play a key role in the irrigation sector with the water savings it offered but also make a crucial difference to the cane economy. We received first hand confirmation of the potential when we exhibited the raingun at leading exhibitions such as Kisan 2001, Agri Index 2001, and Krishi India 2002 in Bangalore, Coimbatore, Trichy and other places.

To support commercialization of the raingun, RIN tried various routes. The first attempt was to present the raingun to EPC Industries Limited, national irrigation company. They were extremely satisfied with its performance. In subsequent discussions, RIN was keen on a technology transfer while they were keen on a marketing arrangement. As a result, the discussions did not meet with success. Later, a marketing tie-up was facilitated between Anna Saheb and International Development Enterprises, a not for profit micro irrigation company in Bangalore. Anna Saheb supplied twenty-two rainguns to the company. However, problems with respect to product quality cropped up in the exchange and the tie-up reached a stalemate.

RIN, based on these experiences came to the conclusion that it was better to strategise a different arrangement to realize the potential of the innovation and reward the innovator. More clearly, the idea was to find somebody who would make and market the raingun with a license from Anna Saheb.

The Business model

We began searching for an entrepreneur who would take on the product. A business plan was developed to pitch the product to various entrepreneurs. Soon a deal was struck between Anna Saheb and Servals Automation in April 2002, whereby Anna Saheb would supply the technology and Servals would manufacture and market the product.

As the raingun needed fresh investment, discussions with Aavishkaar India Micro Venture Capital Fund (AIMVCF) were initiated. A draft business plan of three years was presented to AIMVCF. Detailed discussions saw the business plan being developed for a five year period, during which time it is proposed to sell 3500 rainguns with immediate effect. After intense examination, which looked at the entrepreneur¡¦s track record, the technology and its promise, the market scenario, and the human resources to be put on the raingun enterprise, AIMVCF has decided to invest in the raingun.

Even while discussions were on, we test marketed the raingun in Tamilnadu and have received encouraging signals from the market about its potential. This business model, the first of its kind in the country, will create a surge in rural based micro enterprise venture investments.