Born to a carpenter, quit school, but revolutionising lives of farmers, one innovation at a timeसौरभ राय
Madanlal Kumawat is a grassroots innovator from Sikar, Rajasthan. He is well known among the farmers and residents of his area for inventing a fuel-efficient, multi-crop thresher, which has helped improve their lives. In the year 2010, Forbes magazines recognised him as one of the most powerful rural entrepreneurs from India. He has received many such recognitions, but hardly any support.
Madanlal’s father was a carpenter. His childhood was spent in poverty. He got electrocuted by 11 kV electric wire at the age of 11. Following which he has to undergo rigorous treatment for more than 15 months. Due to the added financial burden and health issues, he had to quit school after finishing his fourth grade.
He started helping his father, and learnt the basic skills of building things. After working as a carpenter for about five years, he realised that his health was being affected, as most of his work involved lifting heavy weight, sitting at difficult postures, and being exposed to wood dust. He decided to do something of his own.
Madanlal soon started working in a workshop, which trained him in the iron and metal work used in building and repairing tractors. He found his work quite interesting because it had a direct impact on the lives of farmers. After learning the work, he soon got bored of the routine work. He then felt that the workshop is centred on repair work, and there is hardly any innovation. He decided to do something on his own.He wanted to build a thresher, a machine used to separate grain from stalks and husks. It took him several months to come up with the first model. The thresher he built was as efficient as the ones available in the market. But this didn’t satisfy him. He had realised over the months that many aspects of the thresher could be improved.
The threshers available were not multi-grain friendly. It took them more than two hours to change the fitting according to the type of grain. He soon modified the thresher by adding several meshes of different sizes, which could easily be pulled out. It now took them just 15 minutes to switch over from one crop to another.
He added a blower into his thresher. To regulate the air speed, he added a gear and a pulley system, which helped the machine handle grains of different shapes, sizes, and density. He also reduced the diameter of the rotating drum, which helped him save a liter of diesel for every hour it ran.
Farmers benefited heavily from the thresher Madanlal built. He sold it at a reasonable price and kept little margin for himself. Madanlal recalls, “Earlier, farmers had to wait for days for the right wind to be able to clean their grains. Also, a lot of it was manual process. With my thresher, this problem was resolved. Now the grains, which are processed through the machine, are cleaner.”
With great sorrow, Madanlal tells us how he had tried to get his designs registered at the Ahmedabad National Innovation Foundation. But by the time he could get through the process, it was too late. His designs have been used by big companies, who are making good profit. According to Madanlal, most threshers available in the market today are copies of his design.
Madanlal’s own business is flourishing. “When I had started selling the thresher, I was selling it for one lakh. Today, they are priced at three lakh and a lot more innovation has gone into them.” At present, Madanlal runs a workshop in Sikar, and another in Jodhpur, which is run by his younger brother.
Presently, the threshers built by Madanlal are available in four different models. They come in different sizes, consume different levels of power, and hence are designed to help small and big farmers alike.
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