The year was 1981. Sukhlalji Ostwal's leg had to be amputated below the knee after gangrene had set in. With the help of a walking stick, the old man now had to make the rounds of his fields about a kilometer-and-a-half away. Water supply was erratic. So he would make multiple trips to his fields, sometimes up to ten trips a day, to start the motor that watered his fields. One day the motor burned out and he lost Rs. 22 thousand in his orange orchards.
His grandson, Santosh, was an engineering student at that time and this incident had a profound effect on him. The problem was a simple one and would be considered too trifling by people in urban areas. But Santosh understood the huge effort his grandfather took in making the numerous trips to his fields. And that was when he decided on the future course of his life, that he would work towards resolving such problems faced by farmers. This, then, is an account of Santosh Ostwal's journey that started in 1981.
After graduating as an electrical engineer, Santosh decided to use his knowledge of electronics in the field of water management. To that effect, he formally established Ossian Agro Automation in 1996. He introduced various solutions and kept enhancing them to ease the life of farmers. The culmination of his efforts came in March 2008 when he introduced a device called Nano Ganesh. Santosh now believes that he has finally fulfilled his dream of helping save precious water, electricity, and time.
Developing the Nano Ganesh was not an easy task. Santosh dug deep to understand the inherent problems faced by farmers who use motors to water their fields. Problems that came up included load-shedding, frequent interruptions in the supply of electricity, trips to the fields in the night or in the heat of the midday sun, in all weather conditions, fear of scorpion and snake bites, and the dangers posed by the ever-increasing foray of wild animals such as leopards and wild boar into the fields. In addition, a delay in switching off the motor could mean catastrophe. In some places, the terrain posed an obstacle in reaching the motor on time. Santosh thought, "What if a farmer could switch the motor on or off from the comfort of his home or even from a distant location?" The technology was available. It was only a matter of taking it to the fields. It should be easy to use, weather-proof, small in size and most importantly, affordable to the farmer.
These reasons contributed to the development of the Nano Ganesh, a device that addresses all these issues and more. In addition, the Nano Ganesh is also a boon in overcoming water management-related problems and saves precious water for the farmers. Santosh says, "Simply make a phone call to switch your motor on or off from wherever you are!" and adds that "this is the first time that such a 'remote control' that uses wireless-link technology is made available to farmers."
When he established Ossian Agro Automation in 1996, he knew that this technology was being used only by the armed forces or in urban applications. During his visit to Israel, he also saw how advanced technology was being used for agriculture and thought of implementing it in India. However, he soon realized that this idea would not be feasible and decided to develop the technology indigenously. For Ossian Agro Automation, this was the first step towards developing a "remote control" for farmers. One of Ossian's first products was a device that would work over a range of two kilometers (later enhanced to work over ten kilometers). This was followed by an advanced remote control (patent pending), and in March 2008, he introduced a remote control with unlimited range, that is, the Nano Ganesh. These were important milestones in his journey.
The journey was also fraught with obstacles such as R&D-related difficulties as well as problems in conducting field tests for the products, the constant depletion of funds allocated for R&D, hard-to-come permissions from the Ministry of Communications, educating farmers about the technology, and frequent requests for enhancements to the products based on market requirements. In time, Santosh Ostwal successfully overcame these hurdles.
He was also aware that farmers would not readily accept the Nano Ganesh unless he answered all their questions. Questions such as: Would we be able to start the motor in our fields from any location (that has mobile connectivity)? How would we know if electricity is available to switch on the motor? How do we know if the motor is currently on or off? Can this device be incorporated into the existing setup? Is it easy enough for a farmer or a local electrician to install it? Would it work in all weather conditions? "Nano Ganesh is the one-stop answer to these questions," he says. Additionally, he made different models based on their utilities. "Farmers can recover this cost in just 11 days by saving on water and electricity as well as the time required for the frequent trips to the fields," he claims. Further, he also developed a simple remote control that can not only be used in areas without mobile connectivity but also helps in curtailing the increasing incidents of motor theft.
Farmers in many of the states in India pay for electricity based on the power (in HP) of the motors they use. This has resulted in a tendency to keep the motors on for long periods of time, leading to excess water being pumped into the fields. This in turn gradually reduces the fertility of the land. These problems arise mainly from the inability of the farmers to switch off their motors in time. Nano Ganesh is the solution to these problems, says Ostwal. One can only hazard a guess about how much the government would save in terms of water and electricity, due to the widespread use of this technology, he claims. Similarly, this technology can also be used by individuals, industries, and water supply authorities in urban areas, leading to a huge saving of precious resources such as water and electricity, he adds.
Recently, Nano Ganesh has been awarded as the best mobile application in the world in the emerging market by Forum Nokia. Also, it has been nominated for the Global Mobile Award,2010 in the Mobile World Congress.
Santosh Ostwal received many prestigious awards like, Mr.Engineer from The Institution of Engineers, Pune, Parkhe Award from MCCIA,Pune, Wantrapreneur Award from Villgro etc.
Nano Ganesh not only helps farmers but also saves water and electricity for the nation, he says. Though Ossian Agro Automation is not the only provider of technical solutions to farmers, it has managed to address at least one area that farmers had difficulty with. And that is what Santosh Ostwal's dream was all about.