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Nishit Sangomla and Lobzang Wongtak from Ladakh found the opportunity to have a solar-powered irrigation system that can pull 1 lakh litres of water daily for about 50 households to revive the farmlands in the valley.

Youngsters build a solar-powered system to irrigate remote Himalayan regions

Nishit Sangomla and Lobzang Wongtak from Ladakh found the opportunity to have a solar-powered irrigation system that can pull 1 lakh litres of water daily for about 50 households to revive the farmlands in the valley.

Group of Youngsters build a solar-powered system that can irrigate remote Himalayan regions

The world has been experiencing the worrisome impact of climate change. While the heatwaves have become more common, the heavy rain events have increased threefold since 1950. Low-income and marginalized groups are most vulnerable to the adverse effects of this change. The problems are even more visible in regions of Ladakh where rains are erratic and intermittent. 

The solar-powered lift irrigation system

Nishit Sangomla, Lobzang Wongtak developed a solar-powered lift irrigation system that helps ease the water scarcity problem in the village of Pishu, located in the remote stretches of the Zanskar region in Ladakh. In the wake of impending abandonment, while being the centre of the water debate for over a decade and a half, this timely innovation serves as a harbinger of hope by irrigating 50% of the farmland in villages such as Pishu and bringing drinking water to around 50 households a day, while lifting 1 lakh litres of water daily.

The solar-powered irrigation system in Ladakh

The need for a sustainable and cost-effective irrigation system

While pursuing the Naropa Fellowship in Ladakh, Nishit explains the conditions of the Pishu community and what inspired them to base their innovation in the village. Regions in Ladakh have been subjected to erratic snowfall patterns and expedited glacier melting, contributing to the already existing water scarcity issues. The Pishu village, in particular, had begun facing problems in sustaining their cultivation given this scarcity. Marked by rampant cattle deaths, drying up grazing fields and heavy reliance on aquifers and melting glaciers for water supply, the community had been facing socio-economic and cultural decline due to the foremost problem of water scarcity. Lobzang Wongtak, hailing from the Pishu village had experienced these challenges hands-on.

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After conducting research at the fellowship and drawing inspiration from a pre-existing solar lift irrigation system installed in Ladakh as a part of an outreach program by SKUAST; a university-based out of Kashmir, the team decided to set up the irrigation system in Pishu with initial help from the district administration and relying on the hinges of community participation and traditional communal know-how. The pilot for the project was undertaken in Mandi. The success of the pilot led the team to launch a crowdfunding campaign. Knowing that lack of intervention would cause crop failure during the year. Within 3 months, the team had garnered enough to affect at least half the cropping area of Pishu. Following the success at Pishu, the team carried out a similar intervention in the Silinksket region.

Need for technological interventions

While the community came together to build the reservoir in June 2021, the team partnered with Grundfos to install the pump for the project. The team also received a grant from the Honnold Foundation. They aim to channelize this into developing greenhouses for pasture lands for which research and development are currently underway. Nishit cites the need for industry collaborations, especially in the spaces of research and development. There is a lack of industrial and corporate presence in such regions owing to fewer populations which deter ventures from making investments. By partnering with initiatives that wish to make a change by sponsorship and funding, the know-how of these ventures could reach the much needed remote regions.

A timely innovation serves as a harbinger of hope by irrigating 50% of the farmland in villages such as Pishu and bringing drinking water to around 50 households a day, while lifting 1 lakh litres of water daily.
This innovation serves as a harbinger of hope by irrigating 50% of the farmland in villages such as Pishu. Bringing drinking water to around 50 households a day, while lifting 1 lakh litres of water daily.

The beginning of victories

The innovation found its much-deserved credit at the 3M-CII Young Innovators Challenge Awards. They won the Special Recognition for IDEA award under the criteria of Rural & Inclusive Innovation. Nishit highlights the experience serves as a source of motivation to be recognized by a prominent organization. It had put the team in the limelight for collaborations with organisations that would want to undertake such CSR initiatives. They aim to set up rural R&D centres with the prize money grant to preserve local methods and know-how. They are also working towards building sustainable livelihoods for inhabitants of such areas. Nishit cites this as a necessary intervention given the unsustainable reliance on tourism and agriculture.

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