Rural India

Traditional Methods and Solutions


July 22, 2016

/ By / New Delhi

India & You

July-August 2016

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Traditional Indian methods to serve various needs now have their modern counter parts. While the time honoured methods continue to be effective, the newer technologies are adding to the efficiency of doing tasks.

Indian civilisation dates back to several thousand years and its culture and traditions are an amalgamation of its history, religious practices, ancient texts and topography. Since time immemorial, people have been altering their lifestyles in accordance to their environs. Requirements for survival haveled to the development of certain methods, some being traditional and some new

People in Indian villages have been living on ingenious and ecological methods which are simple, cost-effective and durable. Clay pot coolers for water and food storage, external curtains in balconies and house walls of terracotta tiles for thermal  insulation are some common examples of traditional techniques.

But, to function, a modern day Indian village needs both man and machine. In liaison with the infrastructure developments and gaps in villages, advancements have been made in existing solutions and newer techniques developed.

Thrashing it soft: Pepper thresher

One of the many challenges faced by Indian farmers is labour shortage and the available personnel tend to be expensive. There are many farming activities that require intensive manual work but the high costs and labour shortage make it difficult for producers to manage these tasks; threshing of pepper being one such activity.

Pepper threshing is a cumbersome process and is usually done manually. Pepper berries should be threshed immediately after harvesting and any delay in the process affects the quality of the plucked berries. Also, many berries get damaged in the process leading to a reduction in the final output.

As a solution to this, a farmer called P K Ravi from Kerala developed a thresher that can be operated both automatically and manually and gives a higher output with minimal damage unlike other conventional threshers. Ravi’s model which has a simplemechanism, has been recognised by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, Government of India, and included in the board’s subsidy scheme. The thresher consists of a feeding hopper made of an iron sheet, a rotating wire-loop type threshing drum and a concave metal sheet with a perforated bottom, all of which are mounted on the main frame. Power from an electric motor is transmitted through the V-belt and pulleys to the threshing drum. The machine also has the facility of manual operation. The harvested pepper spikes are directly fed to the hopper through the rotating drum. The threshed pepper passes down through the perforations and gets collected at the berry outlets.

This new method is more efficient than the traditional method of threshing pepper with feet which is unhygienic and timeconsuming.

Milk master

The shortage of labour is not limited to pepper farms. Poultry farms face a similar problem. Finding skilled personnel for milking a small herd of cows is a challenge to many farmers and using machines for milking a luxury, which only large dairy houses can afford.

Raghava Gowda, a school teacher by profession and a keen observer, saw the working of a gutter spray pump which
inspired him to come up with a milking machine. He used PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) teat-cups and a plastic pipe on the spray pump and developed his first model. After experimentations on his own farm, he realised this process to be painful for the cows and developed it further. Whereas, he moulded the cups according to the size of the teats that created excessive vacuum, he later adopted a vacuum container and started milking from four teats instead of one. He later added a three-legged frame to provide stability and used vacuum level gauge to know the level of the vacuum. Further trials resulted in reducing the milking effort by adopting alternate pulsing for each set of two teats and by reducing stroke and diameter of vacuum pump. It took four years and 15 models to arrive at the final milking machine affordable by small and marginal farmers.

A properly functioning milk machine provides protection against damages to the teat that might happen while milking via hands. A farmer may even injure the teat tissues. The machine is also easy to operate, costs low and saves time and is thus preferred against hand-milking.

Hand operated water lifting device 

Indian villages do not receive adequate electricity, and the irregular power supply makes irrigation difficult. A diesel operated pump is a substitute to electric ones but is not the most ecological or economical solution. Farmers sitting next to their motor pumps and waiting for electricity is a common sight in villages.

A suitable alternative has been developed by N Sakthimainthan, a paddy farmer from Tamil Nadu, who came up with a simple hand-operated water lifting device to help small farmers. The device has minimal installation cost and zero running and maintenance charge and is thus useful for small and marginal farmers, who are deprived of basic needs and good technologies. It is portable to fit at any site, easy to use, well suited for routine work in all seasons and requires just one person to run it.

The farmer demonstrated his product at the Tamil Nadu Agriculture University (a leading agro-technology provider of India), in 2009, that appreciated his efforts in developing this pump from locally available materials.

Other methods of hand-held water lifting devices include dug-wells, suction-plunger, hand-pump, and direct action hand-pump among others.

Doing away the drought 

Irrigation has been practiced as an art since several years by farmers in India. But water woes that hit them regularly call for effective water conservation and collection methods to be adopted.

Some traditional methods in India include diversion channels called khuls, in Himalayan region which make use of hill streams and springs and are one of the most common ways of bringing water to the crops. Underground tanks called kunds in desert areas like Rajasthan, constructed with local materials or cement, are found majorly in areas where ground water is moderate to highly saline and tunnels dug through hillocks, where there is seepage of water, are used in South India.

It has been observed that farmers using traditional irrigation systems and practices cope better with the man-made disaster. In some cases, like sowing the wrong crop may lead to water shortage. For instance, sugarcane, that requires ample water, is grown in Maharashtra (a western Indian state) despite the lack of irrigation. So, knowledge of cropping patterns can help. Further rainwater harvesting and ground water recharging is necessary. In areas where high water intensive crops are grown, ground water table is falling due to over exploitation.Collecting and storing available rainwater or surface run-offs during wet season can help with the situation.

Rajendra Singh, a water conservationist from the North Indian state, Rajasthan, known for his pioneering work in community-based efforts in water harvesting and water management, used ‘johads’ to revive the Alwar district of Rajasthan which had gone dry. A johad is a rainwater storage tank that collects and stores water throughout the year. The “Waterman of India”, as Rajendra Singh, a Stockholm Water Prize winner, is commonly known, used this traditional method to manage water in this area close to a desert.

New scientific methods such as checkdams, roof-water harvesting, recharge pits, recharge wells and vertical recharge shafts also help.

Washing out water

The search for safe drinking water is as old as human existence. People have been using various traditional methods to purify water from natural resources. Scientific water purifying systems only came with time and are limited to modern homes in developing countries like India. People in rural India still use sustainable water treatment methods. Processes like filtration through winnowing sieve, cloth, clay vessels and plants are common. These unconventional water treatments serve mostly to treat water from natural resources and to remove visible impurities like leaves and twigs.

To purify water for drinking purposes one can look up to Ayurvedic solutions which are less known but effective. Vetiver (a perennial bunchgrass native to India) roots and the bark of the Indian gooseberry tree (Amla) are capable of making water drinkable by reducing the Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) in it. The seeds of the Strychnospotatorum, also known as clearing-nut tree, are used to remove sediments or turbidity from drinking water.

There are also some techniques that bring together traditional and modern methods for purifying water. One of the oldest and most inexpensive methods include the usage of activated carbon filters which help in removing many organic pollutants like insecticides and pesticides. However, they alone cannot filter inorganic chemicals and need to be put in conjunction with other processes such as ceramic filters or ultraviolet lights.

Blast from the past 

Besides customs and traditions, the rich Indian culture also consists of smart, sustainable, feasible and eco-friendly methods of lifestyle; from naturally keeping homes cool in summers and cross-ventilating them to preserving food and water in clay pots, and cooking meals using animal dung.

Homes built with techniques passed down through generations such as bore wells and tube wells as a water resource, cattle for irrigation, daylight for the glow and oil-lamp to cook by, make for a traditional Indian village’s infrastructural setting.

Homes in villages are usually made of materials like bamboos, raw mud, sundried or baked mud, rice husk, grass, and thatch, depending on the topography and the need of the people. This informal, functional architecture of structures is referred to as ‘vernacular architecture’ and accounts for temporary houses.

These ancestral and vernacular traditions are now used in conjunction with modern methods to achieve architectural excellence.  The Auroville Earth Institute (AVEI), founded by the Government of India in 1989, is a nonprofit organisation and is a leading centre working in 36 countries to promote and transfer knowledge in earth architecture.

Indian mansions (havelis) have naturally induced cross-ventilation systems. The courtyard is the heart of the haveli and the point from where light and air would be provided to all spaces wrapping it and all these surrounding rooms would have windows crafted in such a manner that they would be liaison with all other windows of the mansion and ensuring cross-ventilation.

It is a wonder how people would preserve food without refrigerators. Some traditional methods include sun drying which would reduce the amount of moisture in food hence preventing the growth of bacteria; smoking – a method toincrease the shelf life of perishable items by exposing the food to smoke from burning plant materials like wood which would also add flavour to them; pickling – a method of preserving food in an edible anti-microbial liquid; ghee – a type of butter that has a long shelf life is prepared by boiling butter and removing the residue. And, this traditional list is long, reliable and creative.

Advancements have been achieved with methods already known and some new techniques are developed for barriers that arise due to modern-day needs. There is a solution for every problem, just both of them need to be identified properly and the correct method adopted accordingly.





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