This entrepreneur developed a water conservation solution for farmers; makes Rs 70Cr a year
That the condition of farmers in India is despairing is no secret. From droughts and other natural calamities to credit gaps, this section of the society is clearly one of the worst affected.
Driven by a desire to do her bit in redressing the situation, 23-year-old entrepreneur Maithili Appalwar has made a difference to the lives of thousands of farmers in India.
Maithili Appalwar, CEO of Avana
Under her firm Avana, she launched Jalasanchay, a water conservation solution, under which an artificial pond is made by digging a large pit in the farmland and covering it with a special polymer that stops percolation of water in other areas.
Maithili claims that after using this solution to conserve water, the farmers’ income has gone up by 98.7 percent. Also, the initiative has contributed in saving 322.31 billion litres of water by developing 8,058 artificial ponds across Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, and Telangana.
“The idea is to capture any excess water that could go into the sea. The water can, instead, be used for irrigation and other purposes by farmers,” Maithili tells SMBStory.
The journey and challenges
After completing her graduation from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, Maithili joined Avana, a division of the 25-year-old plastic products’ manufacturer and trader, Emmbi Industries Ltd., run by her parents - Makrand Appalwar and Rinku Appalwar. in Mumbai
The initial years for Maithili posed many barriers. She says, “It was like a B2B company entering into the agricultural space. This was both exciting and scary because it’s something that no one had ventured into.”
Maithili also had to face the challenge that came with being a young entrepreneur.
“Apart from facing a language barrier, I found it hard to break through as an individual in this male-dominated space. In the initial years, no one took me seriously because I was so young!” she says.
Farm Pond Near India and Pakistan border at Jaisalmer, Rajasthan
Finding a solution to farmers’ woes
Maithili says, “The biggest hindrance to a farmer becoming prosperous or having a consistent source of income is not having a consistent source of water. I noticed they were not able to irrigate their entire land which was affecting their cropping cycle.”
To solve this, she built a farm pond using Avana Jalasanchay pond liner to conserve water.
She says, behind the simple structure has gone a lot of complex thought, science, and technology. The polymer granules needed for polymer lining under the project have been made by manufacturing giants - Reliance and GAIL. Reliance developed a special for Avana that is UV resistant and can withstand the intense heat of rural India. The polymer linings are manufactured in a factory located in Silvassa.
While designing the product for a given area, an optimisation calculator is used to study various parameters to build the pond like type of soil, area, etc.
She says the lining that was initially being used by farmers was of inferior quality that would result in leakages.
“We redesigned the entire machinery and worked with Lohia Group. The result was phenomenal. We developed the widest polymer lining in the world, which is 13-and-a-half feet wide. This cuts the chances of leakages by half and fastens the process.”
Avana also launched Avana Jalasanchay Super, a sky blue coloured lined artificial farm pond solution, which can be used to create advanced ponds that have 50 percent lower evaporation rates, promotes algae growth and are suitable for fish farming.
The pond was dyed blue to give the feel of a natural habitat to fishes.
The machinery and the products are expensive and are priced between Rs 2-3 lakh. Farmers buy these machines with the help of loans, personal financing, some farmers are even granted subsidies by the government to promote water conservation. In addition, Avana has also tied up with four banks-ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, Satara District Central Co-operative Bank and Bank of Maharashtra. These banks run schemes which makes it easier for farmers using Avana Jalasanchay products to get loans based on their credit history.
Maithili Appalwar with the wives of farmers at the Avana site in Aurangabad, Maharashtra
The road ahead
In just over three years, Avana is clocking a turnover of Rs 70 crore annually. Maithili says, “Sustaining the kind of growth we have scaled and maintaining it for the next five or so years seems to be the biggest challenge right now.”
Avana is now looking at launching seven new products and increasing Retail TouchPoints from 500 to 800 in the coming years.
In addition, Maithili says, “We started with water conservation but are now looking at expanding into the whole agricultural space and bring about significant changes in the field.”
(Edited by Javed Gaihlot)