Professor on quest for Indias hidden inventors

first_img Parents, stop beating yourself up He located Ghanshayam Yadav, the man credited with having the idea in 2004. Farmers were having trouble plowing the increasingly dense fields and the tractor company was charging 10,000 rupees ($180) for 80 kilogram (175-pound) weights, Yadav said. Instead, he pumped 200 kilograms (440 pounds) of water into the tires for just 200 rupees ($4).Cheaper, better, longer lasting, more efficient. “This is an amazing experiment,” Gupta said. He gave Yadav a shawl.Gupta’s most successful finds include more productive varieties of rice, wheat and other crops that have been widely adopted. He has licensed out pest control mixtures, pet medicines and a psoriasis cream and is looking for partners to market crop growth promoters, a treatment for animal diarrhea and a natural mosquito repellant.His team helped A. Muruganantham sell hundreds of his machines for making cheap sanitary napkins from wood fiber. And he takes pride in his most successful discovery, Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a once struggling potter who parlayed a clay refrigerator that cools by evaporation into a kitchenware company employing 30 people.Gupta began as a bank loan officer before working in the 1980s with farmers in Bangladesh, where he was amazed at the creativity of the poor. Many finds focus on agriculture: a more productive strain of peppers, a makeshift seat that lets coconut harvesters rest high up in trees, a hollow spear that pierces a hole in a field and drops in a seed.There are traditional herbal medicines for cracked heels and sore muscles, stoves and engines modified to be more efficient, and a rice cleaner designed by a 13-year-old after he watched his mother wearily picking pebbles from yet another sack of grain.And there are the eyebrow-raisers: the washing machine mounted on the back of a scooter and powered by its engine, the bulletproof vest packed with herbs that absorb the concussive force of the bullet, the amphibious bicycle.Gupta has received the Padma Shri, one of the Indian government’s top honors. He works with India’s president to fete the innovators. He helped found the government-sponsored National Innovation Foundation, routinely addresses top business conferences and recently linked up with one of India’s largest retailers, Future Group, to bring some of the most promising finds to market.Consumers will be attracted to the products _ everything from all-natural cookies to a toothbrush that adds its own toothpaste _ because the profits go to a good cause and because of the subtle simplicity of the inventions, said Ashni Biyani, a top Future Group executive. Top Stories Any more ideas? Gupta asked.Khan had been toying with a design for a more efficient soybean harvester, but he didn’t have the 8,000 rupees ($150) for a prototype, he said.Gupta promised him the money.Khan’s obsessions had made him an object of ridicule. Now, “I’m feeling very happy that someone has recognized my ideas and is trying to take it forward,” he said.Gupta was pleased as well. Out-of-the-box thinkers need to be encouraged, not insulted, he said.Gupta insisted every one of his 29 treks had yielded innovations. If the men didn’t bring him inventions, he called on the women to bring recipes _ “chemistry,” he said. He interviewed every centenarian he met, documenting their secrets of longevity and dismissing doubts they may not be anywhere near as old as they claimed.He carried a spoon and small plastic bags to dig up dirt _ “microbial memories” _ for later analysis, and photographed anything that caught his eye, such as an interesting paint job.Gupta ran excitedly to a field being plowed and stepped through a barbed wire fence. He had heard tractor owners in the area were filling their tires with water to make them heavier for digging into the hard soil. Wonderful, one man said, “now my wife can answer her cellphone while she gets water.”Agrawat has sold 5,000 of his pulleys, but donated one to each village along the way and encouraged the farmers to copy it for themselves.In Dhaboti, Gupta was escorted through the streets by a drummer calling out the villagers, Murali Dar, 80, hobbled over on a cane, holding twigs from a tree. A powder made from these can cure a fever, he said. Another man brought herbs to cure jaundice, yet another a wild lemon for animal cramps.Kanhiaya Lal, 62, brought branches he uses to make an antidote for snake bites.“If I die, the secret will die with me of how to cure people,” he said.The offerings were documented by assistants with notebooks. Then, in a simple ceremony that reduced its participants to silent awe, Gupta gave each man a certificate and draped a shawl on his shoulders.In the village of Moghra, a truck halted in a cloud of dust in the courtyard where Gupta and his team had spent the night. Abdul Rahim Khan had rushed over when his brother told him of the arrival of a man who might finally appreciate his work.The farmer unloaded a miniature cotton gin that cost less than $4 to make and saved 10 times as much each year in processing fees. “A very good idea,” Gupta pronounced. Next was a wooden fodder cutter he made for a fraction the cost of the metal ones on the market. Sponsored Stories ___Follow Ravi Nessman on Twitter at When he came home to India, he dedicated himself to fostering that creativity and ensuring poor innovators got properly compensated. He founded his Honeybee Network in the 1980s to connect people and ideas, lobbied the government to create the National Innovation Foundation and set up a network of related organizations to encourage inventors. He soon began touring rural India searching for inventors and spreading ideas.“Before he came we never really thought about innovation,” farmer Hari Singh, 85, said after Gupta presented ideas for harvesting rainwater and making a natural pesticide with local leaves that animals shy away from. His son Kunwar said he was inspired to develop experiments of his own.Gupta dreams his ideas will expand beyond India’s borders, with treks for knowledge spreading to the unexplored corners of the globe.For now he presses on, jumping over a ditch in a dried up lake bed on his way to the next village.“There’s so much to see,” he says. `’You would need several lifetimes.”___Websites relating to Indian innovation:” alt=”last_img” /> read more