Windmills increase income for salt harvesters
Rotarians Vimal Hemani, Deepak Agrawal, Shrinand Palshikar, Kiran Dave, and Rajesh Bhatt with one of five windmills installed in western India to improve the lives of migrant salt workers. Photo courtesy of the Rotary Club of Wadhwan City
Five families who harvest salt from the desert in western India have Rotarians to thank for windmills that will double their income.
The Rotary Club of Wadhwan City, India, and the Rotary E-Club of the Southwest, Arizona, USA, received a Rotary Foundation Matching Grant and used club and District 5510 (Arizona) contributions to purchase 10 windmills. The windmills pump underground, salt-laden water into shallow ponds, where the salt can be separated through evaporation.
The families -- who are among the 10,000 families who migrate annually to the Little Rann of Kutch salt marsh in Gujarat to collect up to 800 tons of salt apiece -- previously relied on diesel engines to draw water to the desert’s surface.
Five windmills were installed by the manufacturer in February with the help of Rotarians and the recipients. Club members expect the other five to be in use by October, the start of the six-month salt-harvesting season.
Deepak Agrawal, governor-elect of District 3060, visited the families in March and says they each saved about $100 in fuel and engine repair costs over a monthlong period.
"The project allowed them to buy basic amenities -- a glass to drink water from, books for their children, a light bulb," Agrawal says. "With the time they saved from engine maintenance, one of the fathers brought his child to school, and a mother read with her children."
A windmill-powered generator also produced electricity for one of the families.
In early April, the salt workers partially disassembled the 20-foot-tall steel and reinforced-plastic windmills and used trucks and tractors to move them to surrounding villages before the annual monsoon rains, which cover the desert in several feet of water.
Shrinand Palshikar, a Wadwhan City club member, proposed the project after his club surveyed the salt workers in 2008 and noted that fuel costs outweighed their profits. The next year, the club purchased one windmill to test and worked with the Gujarat Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network , using the technical expertise of club members to modify the windmill to operate in desert conditions.
The e-club learned of the effort through one of its members, Vimal Hemani, who lives near Wadhwan City.
"Our e-club is international, and that helped facilitate this project," says past club president Larry Levenson. "Hemani was able to personally participate in the project and work with our Indian partners."
"This windmill requires no major maintenance once the design is fully established," says Palshikar. "It’s already two seasons that it has been under testing, and our confidence is very high."
Palshikar says that families who operate two windmills can reduce their fuel use by up to 80 percent, resulting in an even higher increase in income and decreased air pollution.
Agrawal says his district plans to help provide 100 windmills during the 2011-12 Rotary year, and he has talked to an area nonprofit and bank about making microcredit loans available to families so they can purchase windmills.
"We would be interested in expanding the project to serve many more families if the results are positive after the first full season," Levenson says.