What is the point of innovation if it does not contribute to social good?

What defines a true innovator? Based on Rajesh and Vikram—second-prize winners of the Agri-Hackathon—it is the ability to find simple solutions to complex problems.

Belonging to a small village called Pathini, which lies 20 km to the south of Warangal, Rajesh showed a knack for engineering and innovations from a very young age. When he was in 8th standard, he invented a mechanism that allowed farmers in the field to remotely switch on their motors using only the speed-dial function of a basic mobile phone. It was this ingenuity and resourcefulness that paved the way for his future win at the Agri-Hackathon.

One day, while on the Bollikunta Road near Warangal, Telangana, Rajesh saw a billboard calling on innovators to compete to solve India’s farming problems. The Agri-Hackathon—organised by the Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad (RICH) and Vaagdevi Group of Colleges—is a platform for innovators in the agriculture sector to showcase their ideas and receive the chance to get incubation support.

“I knew we would win,” says 21-year-old Rajesh, thinking back to the moment he signed up for the event. “Our invention, Dharini, helps farmers and makes their lives easier. It has a big social impact.”

His desire to ease the difficulties faced by farmers stems from his mother, a daily wage labourer who single-handedly raised Rajesh and his two sisters after their father’s death. Despite being only in 4th standard when his father passed away, Rajesh occasionally accompanied his mother to work in the field. It was here that he observed first-hand the hardships farmers face.

"The farmers would stoop for hours to till the soil and sow seeds. They often had to carry 20 kg pesticide tanks to spray pesticides. My mother and her fellow workers would frequently complain of neck and back pain,” explains Rajesh. “For Vikram and me, the priority was to build something that could benefit the farmers’ health.”

But raw materials to build machinery are hard to come by. Ever resourceful, Rajesh repurposed the spokes from his bicycle into the device. Called Dharini, the device is a multipurpose farming tool that can serve as a weeder, seed drill, fertiliser disseminator, and, its truly innovative feature, a solar-powered pesticide sprayer.

While individual weeders, seed drills, and fertiliser disseminators exist, this is one of the only devices to combine all three. A light-weight, cost-effective device, Dharini can be easily wheeled to the field by farmers, sparing them the effort of stooping for hours or carrying heavy pesticide tanks.

“Its working is easy to understand, so that even people who do not have specialized knowledge will be able to use it,” says Rajesh.

The device also boasts several economic benefits. The device enhances the productivity of farmers. Not only that, farmers often engage labourers to carry and spray pesticides due to the heavy weight of the pesticide tanks. This device can help reduce labour costs as well.

Rajesh and Vikram are already working on improvements to the prototype. Their aim is to enable metered seed application, which will allow the drilling of different sizes of seed holes for the sowing of different sizes of seeds. Other than that, the two of them are also focused on the entrepreneurial aspects of their new venture, and are keen to scale their invention and bring it to market quickly.

When asked about the sale price of the equipment, Rajesh quotes the sum of a few thousand rupees. “Our focus is not on profit. Our aim is to make the lives of farmers easier and to attract more people into agriculture,” he explains. “If there is no social angle to technology, there is no use to it.”

His device has also impressed the officials from the Horticulture Department of the state, who have expressed an interest in helping him pilot and scale his device.

As Rajesh’s farming invention is set to take off, he is also working on other innovations, such as a device to minimise water stagnation in rural Warangal, which will help curb the pestilence of mosquitoes in the area.

We wish him every success in his future ventures.

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