This startup is changing lives of farmers’ by harnessing the power of water conservation
Avana is changing fortunes of India’s farmers with Jalasanchay which is a prudent solution for farmers to efficiently conserve water. The face behind this product, Maithili Appalwar speaks to SME Futures and elaborates more about technical aspects of the product.
Anushruti Singh January 30, 2021
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India is endowed with a bounty of environmental resources, but that does not mean these natural resources would last forever. We are losing freshwater at a faster rate than its capability to replenish itself. Rapid urbanisation, rising population, and a drastic change in lifestyle can be attributed for a considerable increase in water consumption over past few decades.
Many regions are now facing a scarcity of water resources and this can lead to critical implications on India’s agriculture. For Ambadas Peeraji Gholap, a farmer from Nashik, farming was always an unprofitable occupation. Depending on traditional farming practices and rainwater irrigation, his family was unable to harvest even sustainable number of crops to feed their mouths. Water scarcity was the main reason behind this. At times, there was not enough water for villagers to perform even daily chores.
Similarly, families of Dudhanwadi village in Satara were struggling because of water scarcity and less rain as compared to their other geographical neighbourhood. This happened because the village is situated in a rain shadow region. Agriculture hence was tough here and challenged the financial stability of farmers. But one small innovation namely Jalasanchay by a company called Avana resolved this challenge and transformed lives of villagers living in Nashik and Dudhanwadi.
Jalasanchay is a prudent solution to efficiently conserve water. The face behind this water conservation solution is a young entrepreneur, Maithili Appalwar who is also the CEO of Avana. According to Appalwar, her company developed the solution in partnership with the Indian farming community and now has become the world’s most affordable water conservation solution.
“Innovation is not always about technology or investments; it is about the mindset. At Avana, we came up with a frugal innovation about trying to do more with less and our flagship product Jalasanchay is just trying to achieve this. It is a very simple idea of digging pits, lining it with a material that prevents seepage and conserve waters,” Appalwar tells SME Futures.
Jalasanchay—An inexpensive solution to woes of draught
India’s rainfall pattern is changing with sudden downpours and flash floods becoming more common. Most of the rainwater flows away and does not contribute to the increase of the water table. According to a report by NITI Aayog, over 60 per cent of the country is vulnerable to drought. In the past decade itself, one-third of the nation’s districts have faced more than four drought incidents, indicating a great need for proper water management.
Conservation of water by capturing this natural surplus is critical for farmers who depend on it for their livelihood. The traditional water conservation solutions such as concrete tanks are unaffordable for many Indian farmers. “When water is being conserved using traditional liners, there are three big challenges namely evaporation losses, short fabric life, and water losses due to improper sealing,” explains Appalwar.
Jalasanchay effectively resolves these issues by using innovative technologies and manufacturing practices. In simple words, the solution includes a recyclable polymer lining that is used to create artificial ponds on farms. However, an elaborate technology is involved about which Appalwar shares the detail.
“At 13.5 feet (4 metre), Jalasanchay is the world’s widest liner. Affordable automation reduces the number of places it needs to be sealed at thereby reducing chances of water loss. The exposed side of the HDPE pond fabric has been found to be susceptible to getting decomposed due to prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. To address this issue of polymer degradation, Avana has successfully managed to block the nanotubes. Our patented evaporation cover reduces evaporation losses by 85 per cent,” she explains.
Another USP of this product is that it is ten times cheaper than what other traditional water conservation solutions cost which is why farmers find them unaffordable. “Original solution used is Reinforced Cement Concrete (RCC) which is a high investment cost. Any time the cost goes up to Rs 20-22 lakh. But our solution is ten times cheaper (Rs 2-2.5 lakh) because Jalasanchay only digs a pit in the ground and lines it. So, the construction cost is also saved.”
Maithili further claims that by using this solution farmers have enhanced their income by 98.7 per cent. Currently, the solution comes with bundled services such as finance linkages and crop advisory to make water conservation more viable for every farmer.
Idea behind Avana and Jalasanchay
It was the intent of giving back to the society and struggles of farmers that led to the origin of Maithili’s company Avana. “Farmers are hardest working individuals in this world. They toil to put food on our tables. Even then, they struggle to get even basic amenities such as three meals a day and quality healthcare. We truly believe that this needs to change. The entire product catalogue especially Jalasanchay keeps in mind a simple yet powerful motto, Kisaan Sukhi Bhava,” tells the young entrepreneur.
The idea ignited when Appalwar returned as a graduate from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA. Soon after that, she joined Avana, a division of Emmbi Industries Limited founded by her parents – Makrand Appalwar and Rinku Appalwar in Mumbai. She recalls, “Since I was a kid I saw my father doing amazing things with polymer. I knew this was an expertise that can be applied in solving this problem. The lining we have created is durable, affordable and fully recyclable.”
So far, they have built 13,505 ponds and helped to conserve 54.0 billion litres of water impacting 81,030 people in just four years of existence. Going ahead, the firm has also launched Avana Jalasanchay Super. It is a sky blue colored lined artificial farm pond solution which can be used to create advanced ponds that have 50 per cent lower evaporation rates. “These promote algae growth and are suitable for fish farming. The pond is dyed blue to give the feel of a natural habitat to fishes,” she tells us.
Working extensively towards transforming lives of farmers, Avana has also launched a retail division which sells agri-based products. The motive behind this was to help farmers in making profits and providing aid in their daily life activities. The division has a wide range of unique and super-advantageous products in its basket.
The company is also selling innovative products such as the Mughas bag which helps in making quality fodder for cattle, Prabal thread for chilly and tomato farming, taruplin which protects everyone’s goods, anant leno bags for storage of onions, potatoes, vegetables etc. Appalwar tells that her company is manufacturing these products under the supervision of technical experts.
“The firm today excels at creating thoughtful, new age solutions for a wide range of challenges faced by farmers. It only aims to take its legacy forward in the future to truly transform as many lives as possible. Our firm’s vision and leadership has managed to pull Indian farmers out of poverty by focusing on using water judiciously with its unique water conservation solutions,” says Appalwar.
Challenges related to rudimentary mindsets
As a female entrepreneur Appalwar also faced numerous hurdles in her journey. “It was both exciting as well as scary for me to drive a B2B company in the agricultural space. Apart from the language barrier, it was extremely difficult for me as an individual to get recognition in this overtly male dominated space,” she recalls.
A lot of farmers do not realise the need for conserving water or know of affordable methods for doing it. According to her, making farmers understand the significance of water conservation was a big hurdle. She further elaborates, “I was not taken very seriously as I was very young. It took me four years to overcome these challenges and emerge as a leader in the pond lining segment. It was indeed a unique concept that has helped in encouraging water conservation.”
Avana’s field team conducts gram sabhas (village meetings) and participates in aathwadi bazaars (weekly markets) in villages to increase awareness around conserving water. The firm also works closely with non-profit organisations and government departments for awareness campaigns. Once people witness positive results, they automatically get involved with mission of water conservation.
However, Appalwar admits that the steps are not enough to curb water issues in the country. She confesses, “To tackle droughts, educating farmers about other methods of agriculture, introducing them to crops which may use less water and can be sold for profits, about zero-budget farming etc is an essential short-term solution but that is not enough. A combination of short and long-term solutions is the way ahead if this water crisis must be dealt with.”
Changing landscape of rural India
Water is the most significant natural resource for mankind, but it is wasted exorbitantly. The water content of our planet is limited. The amount what we have now is all we get. It is recycled through natural hydrological cycle which replenishes all water sources. India on the other hand has a diverse geography. Some regions rich in water bodies have wet climate while others are dry. Here water conservation is a very significant solution for water collection.
Avana is just doing its bit by spreading awareness about water harvesting and helping in conservation of rainwater as most of the rainwater gets wasted. In addition to this, Government of India’s Ministry of Jal Shakti is a big step in that direction. The ministry is also responsible for laying down policy guidelines and programmes for the development and regulation of country’s water resources.
The firm is also collaborating with ministry to reach out to people and making them aware about the importance of water conservation. Appalwar elaborates, “Our finance team got water conservation lining included as a priority sector lending item in India. Following this, we signed MoUs with multiple banks which offer financing schemes to farmers for creating a Jalasanchay pond on their farm.”
Today the company has served people extensively in western India covering Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. In southern parts, it has made an impact in states such as Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. According to the young entrepreneur, it took relentless collaborations and partnerships that have helped to accomplish this mission.
Companies such as Reliance, Gail and Lohia Group are partners of Avana. “The polymer granules needed for polymer lining under the project have been made by manufacturing giants like Reliance and GAIL. Reliance developed a special lining for Avana that is UV resistant and can withstand the intense heat of rural India. The polymer linings are manufactured in a factory located in Silvassa. Avana redesigned the entire machinery with the Lohia Group. We developed the widest polymer lining in the world which is 13-and-a-half feet wide,” Appalwar informs us.
Adding to that, Avana has also tied up with banks such as ICICI, Axis Bank, Satara District Central Co-operative Bank and Bank of Maharashtra. These banks run schemes which help farmers in getting loans based on their credit history. Appalwar further tells, “The machinery and products are expensive and are priced between Rs 2-3 lakh. Farmers buy these machines with the help of loans, personal financing, and some farmers are even granted subsidies.”
Innovations and the next phase
Every farmer’s needs for water are different based on what and where they want to grow their crops. Therefore, Avana has come up with an optimisation calculator. Appalwar tells, “Avana has created a size optimisation calculator, which uses data science to gauge how much water needs to be stored while considering multiple factors such as soil type, crop variety, and local weather patterns. We also created an engineering design which emphasizes human safety, minimum land usage, easy water supply, and minimum use of power for distribution of water.”
The firm till now has managed to capture opportunities that lay underneath the dark clouds of adversity of draughts in India. They are now playing a major role in water conservation by providing affordable water conservation technologies in the drought hit regions to protect them from the severity of nature.
Having grown her scope from water conservation, Avana is now looking to expand product range into the entire agricultural space with an aim to bring significant changes in the conventional ways of farming in India. “Avana is now looking at launching seven new products and increasing Retail Touch Points from 500 to 800 in the coming years,” concludes Appalwar.