Arch + Eng, Design, Education, Sci + Tech, Social Impact

Bhungroo Wins the 2017 Buckminster Fuller Challenge

NEW YORK CITY (October 11, 2017) – The Buckminster Fuller Challenge is pleased to announce the winner of the 2017 Challenge: Bhungroo, a project of the Sustainable Green Initiative Forum (SGIF) in Gujarat State, India. The project was submitted by Trupti Jain and Biplab Ketan Paul, SGIF’s co-founders.

Bhungroo (meaning “straw” or “hollow pipe” in Gujarati) has developed a deceptively simple, “low-tech” but highly innovative technology that can filter, inject, and store water from precipitation in the water table up to a depth of 300 meters in the subsoil. The project uses this novel technology to dramatic benefit for poor farmers in a multi-dimensional strategy that boosts crop yields and food security, raises rural incomes, improves soil fertility, combats the effects of climate change, and radically enhances the wellbeing and social status of women.

The Fuller Challenge Review Committee found Bhungroo to be a perfect demonstration of one of Buckminster Fuller’s favorite dictums: “If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don’t bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.

Bhungroo’s water storage system occupies a very small footprint. Using only 1 square meter of surface area to drill, it allows multiple farmers to collectively preserve and retrieve up to 40 million liters of stored rainwater. This is game changing in tropical and equatorial regions where monsoon seasons alternate with very dry periods and droughts, a situation compounded by the further instability brought by climate change. While simple to implement and operate, this water storage method is highly sophisticated and is based on a deep understanding of climatic, hydrological, and geological factors. Bhungroo uses 17 technical designs that weigh 27 variables to find the ideal locations and depths at which to store water.

In addition to alleviating hunger and poverty and enhancing food security, SGIF, which combines social enterprise with non-profit components, is strongly focused on boosting the income and status of women farmers and of others at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid because of religion, caste, or ethnicity in the often rigidly patriarchal rural regions where they work. SGIF achieves this by training groups of women farmers to form entrepreneurial collectives that run, own, and operate the water storage systems. The organization provides them with access to larger social networks and ongoing training and support. They are also developing pictorial educational apps that will permit illiterate farmers to master the technology.

While as a technological artifact, Bhungroo is scaled down as much as possible, the scale of its vision itself is global,” said Melissa Kelly, sustainability analyst and member of the Fuller Challenge Review Committee. “And in its social enterprise elements, it also offers a fundamental challenge to existing social systems. The solution anticipates many critical future issues: women’s empowerment, food security, poverty alleviation, and how to become resilient in the face of rainfall patterns that will become even more erratic as the climate changes further.

Bhungroo’s model, which has proven to be very successful in Gujarat, is expanding to other parts of India. The SGIF team is also consulting with groups in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, and Vietnam that are seeking to adapt Bhungroo for their agrarian communities. This deceptively simple but revolutionary approach, which allows smallholder farmers to survive and thrive in the face of drought, monsoon flooding, and ever more erratic precipitation patterns, simultaneously empowers women and the poorest of the poor. It is clearly a “trimtab,” to use Fuller’s term, that can improve life for millions of the world’s most disenfranchised people.

Further details on the winning proposal as well as a statement from the Fuller Challenge Review Committee can be found here.

2017 Buckminster Fuller Challenge Runners-Up:

The Review Committee requested to honor two remarkably inspiring, groundbreaking projects as runners-up to this year’s Challenge winner.

Sistema Biobolsa distributes biomimetically-inspired, affordable, robust, lightweight, state-of-the-art bio-digesters that permit small farms, rural communities, and urban settlements to convert organic waste into renewable energy and organic fertilizer. Now operating in Colombia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Senegal and growing virally, Sistema Biobolsa plans for near global reach. This project boosts the livelihoods of small farmers who produce 80% of the world’s food; curtails illnesses caused by indoor air pollution; provides gas for clean cooking; delivers affordable, renewable, decentralized energy as well as organic fertilizers that reduce the use of toxic chemicals; reduces deforestation; cuts migration to urban slums; and combats climate change. Sistema Biobolsa provides a game-changing intervention to help small farmers around the developing world. Further details on this project can be found here.

Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martin Peña (in English, the Martín Peña Channel Community Land Trust) is a remarkable local democracy and social justice initiative. A historically disenfranchised “informal” community near the center of San Juan, Puerto Rico, situated in the floodplain of a highly polluted waterway, has organized itself to demand environmental restoration while simultaneously working to prevent gentrification and provide affordable housing and access to critical infrastructure for its inhabitants. The project’s leaders decided to use a Community Land Trust (CLT) as the vehicle for community empowerment. They secured collective legal tenure of 200 contiguous acres of land in perpetuity, something truly historic and almost unheard of in such urban contexts. By tackling land rights, environmental restoration, and social justice in a multi-pronged approach, they have launched an unprecedented comprehensive development model, one already being referenced for replication by communities in Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, and South Africa. Further details on this project can be found here.

On behalf of the Fuller Challenge team, we would like to extend our congratulations to the 2017 winner and our runner-up honorees!” remarked Elizabeth Thompson, Founding Director of the Fuller Challenge. “As this is the final year of the program’s first decade, it feels fitting to award our prize to Bhungroo, a project so focused on the design of solutions that meet the basic human needs of an expanding population in a part of the world increasingly challenged by the effects of climate change, persistent poverty, and food insecurity. The selection of the project by the Review Committee also signals recognition that empowering women is a fundamental driver of systemic change.

The 2017 grand prize will be awarded to Bhungroo in New York City on the evening of November 10th, followed by a day-long symposium gathering all 10 winners of the Buckminster Fuller Challenge since 2008. For more information about the conferring ceremony and 10th anniversary celebration, please visit this page.