Here’s how solar power is lighting up the lives of saltpan workers in the Rann of Kutch
The switch from diesel to solar-powered pumps is helping saltpan workers in Kutch cut costs, improve earnings, and enhance salt production.
Agariyas, the traditional saltpan workers in Gujarat’s Rann of Kutch, are responsible for about 70 percent of India’s salt production. Their lot hasn’t been easy, but solar-powered pumps are bringing about a change.
Saltpan workers in Kutch, who have traditionally used diesel to power their pumps, switched to solar power in 2012. They are now seeing the results of going green: a boost in earnings, increased salt production,and a drop in carbon emissions.
Salt extraction usually begins in October, months after the monsoon has submerged areas of the desert in briny seawater. Workers pump the water and direct the extracted water to rectangular saltpans where the natural process of evaporation leaves behind crystals of salt.
When diesel was used, up to 1,200 to 1,300 liters of the fuel was needed per pump; this cost was in addition to the logistics of acquiring fuel and maintaining the pumps. At the end of the eight-month season, a saltpan farmer would be left with hardly Rs 35,000–40,000.
Devash Shah, the CEO, Grassroots Trading Network for Women (GTNfW), said that after repaying debts, including advances taken at the beginning of the season, the saltpan farmers are “left with hardly any money”.
GTNfW is a non-profit organisation started by Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to provide solar pumps to its members.
How it all began
SEWA introduced solar pumps in 2012 in view to save low-income workers from the burden of escalating fuel prices. This was done in collaboration with Jaypee Solar, a local provider of solar PV systems. The solar pumps installed were specifically designed for brine-pumping applications.
SEWA later partnered with SunEdison, a US-based renewable energy company, and World Bank. The collaboration led to the distribution of 200 solar-powered pumps to Agariyas in 2015.
Reports state that 200 and 700 solar-powered pumps were distributed to Agariyas in the region in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
In an interview with Village Square, Devesh said,
“We provided these solar pumps in response to the dire need of affordable credit that would help the Agariya women buy green technology and prosper.”
The cost factor
The solar pump doesn’t come cheap; a single pump costs around Rs. 180,000. Heena Ben, SEWA district coordinator from Surendranagar said to Village Square, “Solar pumps are more expensive than diesel pumps and that was an issue that needed to be addressed for the scheme to be successful.”
GTNfW and SEWA decided to help Agariyas by providing them loans through Shri Mahila Sewa Sahkari Bank Ltd, a sister organisation of SEWA.
“We considered this a special case and offered seasonal repayment options that suit the workers’ needs.”
For instance, if a woman can save Rs 8,000 per month, the repayment installment was fixed at Rs 6,000. With this, an individual would have Rs. 2000 in hand for additional expenses.
To improve the lives of Agariya women in terms of access to credit, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) has helped in creating an efficient financial structure. The focus is now on training the workers to improve the quantity and quality of the salt they produce so they can negotiate better deals.
Viju Ben believes life has changed with the use of solar energy. She told told VillageSquare.in:
“All my three children use the solar water pump and it has helped us save a lot of money. My children are now able to send their children to school which we could not imagine earlier; technology is moving ahead and I am glad we are moving with it.”