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Solar-powered battery-based sprayers to tackle India’s agricultural water crisis

According to a press release by the Ministry of Science and Technology, India is witnessing a water shortage, and agriculture, which uses around 70% of water, is the most vulnerable sector of the economy.

To address this, the government plans to install solar pumps at almost every farmland across the country. Further, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Central Mechanical Engineering Research Institute (CSIR-CMERI) is working to reduce the amount of water consumption required for irrigation. Initially, the organisation had considered drip irrigation a sustainable solution, however, it realised it is not an affordable method for marginal and small farmers that contribute significantly to the Indian agrarian ecosystem.

Moreover, according to available data, pesticides play a large role in increasing crop productivity, but often large amounts of pesticide sprays are wasted because of a lack of appropriate machinery. The soil, water, and air become polluted as a result.

Due to the harmful effects of pesticides, there is increasing pressure to reduce their use and make spraying more efficient. For this, research on the science of surface tension, viscosity, wettability, air drag, dynamic pressure, and particle size must be carried out.

CSIR-CMERI developed two variants of battery-operated spray systems: the Back-Pack Sprayer with a capacity of 5 litres for marginal farmers; the Compact Trolley Sprayer with a capacity of 10 litres for small farmers. The sprayers are equipped with two separate tanks and flow control and pressure regulator to handle the different water requirements of the crops. It also features target/site-specific irrigation, maintaining the appropriate dilution of pesticide/fungicide to control pests (on foliage, under the leaves, or in root zones).

Image credit: Press Information Bureau

This creates water-based micro-roughness on the leaf surface and maintains soil moisture levels in a narrow range and allows for weed control. The systems function on solar-powered batteries, enabling its usage even in energy and power-deprived agricultural regions. It will reduce the dependence on price-volatile fossil fuels. The sprayers are simple to develop and easy to learn and implement.

The sprayer’s flow control features help achieve multiple levels of water or pesticide flow, enhancing the flexibility and dynamicity of the coverage area as well as the intensity of the application. The dual-chamber design of the sprayers helps achieve a degree of resource versatility as it allows the system to carry two variants of liquids.

In the experiments conducted at CSIR-CMERI, participating farmers reported that the system helped save 75% of water and 25% time-consumption. Dr Harish Hirani, the Director of CSIR-CMERI explained that the variants are revolutionary in the sphere of precision agriculture because they reduce water usage. The technology will help create agricultural avenues even in arid and semi-arid regions, as water scarcity will no longer be a challenge for the farming community.

Last August, the Indian Prime Minister announced the allocation of US$ 50 billion to the Jal Jeevan Mission, a program to provide piped water to all households in the country by 2024. According to a 2019 report, 82% of rural households do not have piped running water. Even before COVID-19, millions of Indians went without access to clean water, making them susceptible to infectious, water-borne diseases.

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