APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
Prior to making this commitment, SEWA partnered with Global Fairness Initiative (GFI) and Practica to conduct a feasibility study. A survey team interviewed the salt farmers to study options for reducing costs for brine groundwater extraction through renewable energy technologies. The study included various topics such as salt production, costs of engines and pumps, pump life time and replacement, maintenance costs, fuel costs, and running hours. The feasibility study indicated that retrofitting the pumps could have a positive economic impact on the salt farmers, so SEWA entered into a partnership with SEDEMAC and the Shell Foundation to explore options for retrofitting. SEWA sent existing diesel pumps used by the salt farmers to SEDEMAC and the Shell Foundation, and the technical teams studied the diesel pumps for retrofitting opportunities.
In October of 2011, SEWA will test several newly designed retrofitted pumps with a small group of 10 salt farmers. Once an appropriate retrofit has been identified and modifications have been made, a pilot project will be undertaken to retrofit 500 salt farmers' pumps.
Upon completion of the pilot project, SEWA will scale the project to retrofit another 15,000 salt farmers' pumps over the next five years.
If they can afford to, the salt farmers will repay the cost of retrofitting their pumps upfront. In cases where the salt farmers cannot afford the upfront costs, SEWA will help them establish bank linkages so that the salt farmers are able borrow the funds from the bank. The salt farmer will then repay the cost of retrofitting in regular installments over a period of 3 years.
SEWA has been working for the economic and social uplift of the salt farmers for more than 12 years, and has relationships with many thousands of salt farmers in the area. Surendranagar Mahila SEWA and Balvikas Mandal- SEWA, the local district associations of the salt farmers, are trusted partners to the farmers and will implement the project locally.
IMPLEMENTATION, TIMELINE, AND DELIVERABLES
The salt season runs from October through May. Upon the launch of the program in October 2011, testing of the retrofitted pumps will be done with 10 salt farmers.
Following the results and the modifications of the testing, a pilot will be conducted with about 500 salt farmers in 2012, the first full year of the program.
Between 2013 and 2016, the program will gradually be increased in scale to reach 15,000 salt farmers in total. The scaling up of the project will be implemented under the leadership of local women. The local communities themselves are involved in the planning and the implementation of the project, and will lead the outreach to the salt farmers, ensuring the sustainability of the activities. SEWA will provide the local communities with support and the SEWA local district associations and the grass-roots implementation team will ensure smooth functioning of the activities.
The condition of salt farmers in the Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat has been deplorable for many years. In the deserts, nearly 40,000 salt workers depend on salt farming as their only source of livelihood. The work of salt farmers requires them to be in the desert for eight months in a year (from September/October to June/July).
The salt harvested in Surendranagar is from underground brine water. During the rainy season, water seeps below the ground and becomes excessively salty. This salty water is then extracted through crude diesel pumps from below the ground. The farmers process the brine and evaporate the water to produce salt. The majority of salt farmers' earnings are used to purchase the diesel to fuel their pumps.
During the salt season, each salt farmer spends approximately 53,200 rupees on diesel fuel for their pumps and earns an average of 78,000 rupees on their salt. Once maintenance and repair costs are factored in, farmers have very little income remaining. Often, at the end of the salt season, salt farmers do not have any income left for themselves despite their hard work in the salt pans.
These salt farmers work in extremely harsh conditions, under a scorching sun on hot sands. The salt workers stabilize the surface of saltpans with their bare feet. Their houses in the desert are made of gunny bags and bamboo and, due to the lack of transportation in the desert, they must walk 10-15 kilometers to procure the basic necessities of life. They buy their water from a water tanker that reaches them every two or three days. During the eight months of the year that salt farmers live in the desert, they get no vegetables, no milk, and no medical aid. Their children are left to wander about in salt heaps, without basic education and childcare facilities. Lack of nutritious food and clean water result in a high child mortality rate. As a result of their exposure to salt, the salt workers and their children suffer from skin diseases, such as blackening of legs, peeling skin, swellings, pus boils, bleeding, and pain. Apart from skin diseases, the salt farmers also suffer from diseases like Tuberculosis and intestinal infections.
Due to drought conditions in the areas where they work, salt workers sometimes have to try four or five times before they strike water for their wells. Sometimes, the low prices of salt, coupled with scarcity of water, compel them to take loans to get them through the difficult period. They fall heavily into debt. Even when saltpans are not constructed due to shortage of water, the salt workers still must pay water and land taxes.
By retrofitting their brine pumps, SEWA will enable farmers to spend less money on diesel oil and potentially increase their yield. Retrofitting pumps reduces oil use in two ways: 1) it increases the efficiency of pumps so that they use less diesel oil yet pump out more brine, and 2) it allows farmers to use an alternative energy source, such as solar or wind power, instead of diesel oil. Reducing the use of diesel oil also leads to a reduction in carbon emissions by the farmers. These reduced emissions can be quantified and linked to carbon credits
The improved retrofitted pumps will allow farmers to save almost 50 percent of the amount they are currently forced to spend on diesel oil. The money saved will be directly used by the farmers on improved educational opportunities for their children, improved nutrition for themselves and their families, and access to necessary health services.