Her Harvests Multiplied with Swedish Technology
Indian farmer Sangitaben Rathod is a pioneer in her village. She dared to invest in a new Swedish invention that gives her three times the harvest she had before. As a result, she was invited to the global climate summit in Dubai, sharing the same stage as Hillary Clinton.
Sangitaben Rathod meets with TT’s correspondent in the shadow next to the Swedish pavilion at the UN climate summit COP28. One of the reasons to why she has made this long journey is green tech company Spowdi, which is a part of the Swedish delegation in the pavilion. Their solar-powered drip irrigation system has, in a way, transformed her life as a small-hold farmer in Gujarat in northwestern India.
“It was a very difficult decision to dare to try the new method. No one had heard of it. I didn’t know if it would work, and it would impact our entire livelihood,” she says.
Life as a farmer has never been easy, but climate change makes it even more challenging. The quality of the crops worsens in drought, water is insufficient, and at the same time, various studies show that food production must increase as the world’s population grows – it doesn’t add up.
Two years ago, Sangitaben Rathod’s father had a heart attack, making him unable to work in the family’s agriculture.
“I took on the entire responsibility for the family’s livelihood on my shoulders.”
The village is located far out in the countryside, at the end of the power line. One day electricity works during the day, the next late at night. Or not at all.
On days when electricity only appeared in the evening, Sangitaben Rathod had to go to the field in the darkness, regardless of how unsafe it was.
“It was so scary to walk alone in the dark and not see if I would step on snakes and scorpions.”
It was appealing with a system that is independent of an unreliable electrical system, and instead powered by solar energy. Additionally, the company promised larger harvests despite an 80 percent reduction in water consumption.
Almost too good to be true, so Sangitaben Rathod tested drip irrigation on half of the vegetable field, traditional flood irrigation on the other. Flood irrigation practically involves a diesel-powered pump quickly distributing a large amount of water that almost drowns the crops. Roots are at risk of rotting while weeds thrive and compete for nutrients.
It turned out that the harvest was three times larger and of better quality with drip irrigation. Rathod also saves several hours per day by not having to weed as much. Now, others in the village have also adopted the method.
Even though farmers get larger harvests and save on water and diesel, many cannot afford the initial investment. Sangitaben Rathod received assistance with loans from the Self-employed Women’s Association (SEWA), which organizes around 2.5 million Indian women.
Spowdi collaborates with SEWA, and it’s not a coincidence.
“If you want to make things happen, work with women. They have much greater responsibility for their families than men,” says Henrik Johansson, co-founder and CEO of Spowdi. “And if you want to make something happen, you must collaborate with large organizations that have significant local trust.”
Doesn’t Talk about Sustainability
In Dubai, the company signed an agreement with ChildFund, another major organization, for the delivery of drip irrigation systems to Africa. There, just like in India, many small-hold farmers are struggling with the same problems.
“We don’t talk out there about how they will become sustainable. No one can afford to listen to that word. But on top of everything, they become ‘sustainable,'” says Johansson. “If the technology cannot provide people with more money, the technology will not be adopted.”
However, not everything is new technology. Climate change also leads to more pest attacks and pesticides no longer being effective.
Rathod has therefore reverted to methods used in the past in India. She mixes neem leaves with cow urine – and it works. She shared this, among other things, at a seminar at COP28 together with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Find the original article, published by Swedish news outlet NyTeknik, here!