“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.” –R. Buckminster Fuller
Climate change’s most severe impacts often fall on rural communities in developing countries hampered by financial, infrastructural, and other constraints. Globally, 260 million farmers are adversely affected by too much or too little water—floods, erratic rain, and droughts. In India alone, 6.72 million hectares of land are affected by this instability, dramatically contributing to food-insecurity and oppressive indebtedness for the poorest rural dwellers. Many irrigation solutions are not affordable and difficult to access. Aside from short-term losses of crops, the cycle of flood and drought typical of monsoon regions damages soil fertility in the long-term, leading to a vicious cycle of indebtedness and ecological degradation.
Rural women farmers suffer most acutely as a result of these hardships. In many cases, women do the majority of agricultural work, but they are at the bottom of the social hierarchy and are considered laborers rather than farmers, as men still own the land, control women’s labor, and make important agricultural decisions due to patriarchal social systems that dominate rural life nearly everywhere. In the absence of independent resources, women are far more vulnerable to poverty and destitution in cases of desertion, divorce, or the death of their husbands. Even for widows who become smallholders, irrigation scarcity and the effects of recurring disasters make it difficult to profitably cultivate the land that they are left with. In many cases, local power groups take advantage of these women’s vulnerabilities and capture their lands by manipulating their financial indebtedness.
The Sustainable Green Initiative Forum has designed Bhungroo (in Gujarati, “straw” or “hollow pipe”), an innovative technology that can filter, inject, and store storm water up to a depth of 300 meters in the subsoil. Operating in the Gujarat state of India with consultancy-based projects in Bangladesh, Ghana, Togo, and Vietnam, Bhungroo has 17 technical designs for water management in a variety of soil types and agro-climatic zones that can be customized based on 27 variables. Using only 1 square meter of surface area, Bhungroo allows multiple farmers to collectively preserve and retrieve stored rainwater.
In an area where female farmers are often disregarded as contributing members of society, this exemplary social enterprise also has a non-profit component that trains women who are smallholder farmers to collectively own the subsoil water stored by Bhungroo and to provide fee-based services to other smallholder farmers in their village, confronting repressive social structures that have dominated the region for 400 years. Their program will be made available to illiterate farmers through the development of an app that utilizes a pictorial format.
Through the provision of a simple yet elegant, trimtab-like technology, Bhungroo can equip smallholder farmers to be able to face drought, monsoon flooding, and unpredictable precipitation patterns related to climate change while simultaneously empowering women and the poorest of the poor.
For more information, please visit the SGIF website: http://www.sgifgoon.org/