Areca nut – commonly known as areca nut – has a large portion of commercial value attached to it. Belonging to the family Arecaceae, tropical walnuts are used by a large section of Indians either for direct consumption or during certain religious practices.
Thousands of farmers in Kerala, Assam and Karnataka have been immersed in the cultivation of hardwood fruits for years now. However, business has not been easy for many people.
Faheem Hussain, who heads the agronomy division at Indore-based agritech startup Gramophone, gives more information about this.
He says, “Due to non-availability of fungicides, lack of labor resources, difficulty in prevention of pests, arecanut farmers in India are struggling to get good yields from year to year. Insects such as mites, spindle bugs, and tender nut drop usually destroy plants and give rise to diseases such as cholera. Therefore, better technical intervention is needed to help the farmers. ”
Fifteen-year-old Neha Bhatt of Puttur in Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka saw an issue that farmers in the area were facing. But, unlike her young age, Neha thought of finding solutions for these farmers.
From 2017 onwards, every monsoon, Neha saw nut farmers spraying a fungicide called ‘Bordeaux mixture’, which is made of copper sulfate, lime and water.
Neha tells Yourstory, “The Bordeaux mixture was being sprayed specifically to protect crops from fungi and mud. However, farmers were disassembling the conifer using conventional steel fabricated gator pumps, which required too much manual pressure. I came to know that the entire process not only involved huge labor costs, but was also proving inefficient. ”
After doing research, experimenting and interacting with several areca nut farmers for three years, Neha Bhatt, a Class 10 student, created an automatic agri sprayer capable of reducing human interference. The machine includes an Arduino-based level detector, pressure release valve, and overcharge protector, and is capable of reducing human interference, as well as saving time and money.
A class 10 student of Vivekananda English Medium School, Neha won the third prize for her invention at the “CSIR Innovation Award for School Children, 2020”. He received a cash prize of Rs 30,000 and a certificate from the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
It all started three years ago when 12-year-old Neha first saw the efforts made by Ereka Nut farmers. For the next two years, she constantly battled for academics and thorough research and a better system between them at the grassroots.
In June 2019, he had the opportunity to participate in Royal Dutch Shell’s global education program NXplorers. This initiative focuses on preparing young boys and girls between 14 and 19 years old to solve social issues with the help of practical knowledge.
Neha explains, “The NXplorers program was a turning point. It was a three-day workshop for which I registered at my school. It taught me how to apply science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) to my daily life, and especially to problem-solving. When I thought of using my learning to make an automatic sprayer for arecanut farmers. ”
He started by talking to local betel nut farmers and distributed questionnaires prepared in local languages to better understand their pain. He spoke to several agriculturalists and experts to validate his views.
She adds, “Through my conversations and surveys, I came to know that more than 97 percent of farmers were finding it difficult to pay the high labor costs involved in using gator pumps. In addition, the physical exhaustion that was involved in mixing the pesticide advances the lever to create pressure, and eventually, sprinkles it out and expels them. ”
After six months of testing in her school’s laboratory with various second-hand mechanical and electrical components, Neha created an automatic agri sprayer using Archimedes’ principle (a small force needed to control a large pressure).
Automatic sprayers mounted on a single-wheel drive include gearbox, DC motor, lithium-ion battery, suction and delivery hose, two garter pumps, junction boxes, connectors, barrels, accelerators, and other components.
To manufacture the sprayer, Neha placed the two garter pumps in front of each other and attached her piston to the larger wheel of the gearbox. Once this wheel starts rotating, it allows one piston to pull, while simultaneously pushing the other piston. They connected a small wheel with a battery-powered DC motor through a series that powers the entire set-up. Once fully charged, the machine can be run for five consecutive hours.
Neha explains, “The rest of the set-up is when the pumps exert pressure, the suction hose becomes useless and pushes it into the junction box, which has three outlets. Finally, the pressure release valve enables smooth diffusion of the Bordeaux mixture. ”
Changes in the life of farmers
Upon completion of the prototype, Neha contacted about 15 betel nut farmers and requested them to use the machine, and provide feedback.
Suresh P., 41, a betel nut farmer living in Puttur, used Neha’s invention to spray the mixture on his crop. According to Suresh, he found the machine extremely convenient, as well as cost effective.
He says, “Earlier, I had to hire three laborers to spray the mixture. One to combine the component, one to move the lever and generate pressure, and the other to spray it. However, Neha’s set-up is automatic and easy. By employing 15 laborers for three days for my three-acre farm, I needed only five of them for two days. I was able to save 30 percent of the labor cost. ”
Additionally, the sprayer also has an indicator (Arduino Uno, made with ultrasonic sensors, jumper wires and beeper), which displays the level of mixture remaining in the barrel for farmers to plan their next refill. .
Currently, Neha wants to make the automatic sprayer commercially available in the market at an affordable price. For this, she is receiving mentorship from Laghu Udyog Bharti – an all India organization for micro and small scale industries in India.
Belonging to a family, where his grandfather and other ancestors were also involved in farming, Neha says,
“I want to ensure that my invention reaches every betel nut farmer in the country. Professionally, I would like to become an Ayurvedic doctor since the concepts of ancient medicine, herbal remedies and natural medicine have always impressed me. ”