Savajibhai Ukabhai Zinjuvadiya: Champion for the Salt Farmers of Little Rann of Kutch

This month, CITE and the Self Employed Women’s Association are kicking off a pilot to measure the performance of solar panels used in solar pump systems. The pilot is an extension of the CITE evaluation of solar pumps that began in 2015, and will further inform our evaluation study available later this summer. In the following blog, you’ll meet Savajibhai Ukabhai Zinjuvadiya, a local guide for the Self Employed Women’s Association who uses his decades of experience in salt production to support the salt farmers in Little Rann of Kutch.

Kicking off our pilot, the first task was to install sensors to measure the power and performance of solar panels used by the Agariya(salt farmers) of the Little Rann of Kutch outside of Ahmedabad, India. The salt farmers use these panels to harness the power of the sun, pumping groundwater to subsequently evaporate it and obtain white, regular crystals of table salt that they sell to make a living for their families.
We were fortunate to have a knowledgeable local guide, Savajibhai Ukabhai Zinjuvadiya, helping us navigate through the dry, unwelcoming plains of the salt marshes to reach the salt farmers.

Savajibhai’s role extends much beyond just being a navigator working for the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA). Observing his animated discussions with the locals followed by quick, sure actions to troubleshoot minor pump failures reveals that he knows a lot about the salt panning trade.The salt farmers trust and admire him as he helps prevent loss of production by supporting them to promptly resolve routine technical issues. 
After the last couple of sensors are installed, we are ready to call it a day. Savajibhai invites us over to his house to have some tea. So here we are, sitting in the shade of the porch with a cup of tea in hand, eager to get to know more about the history standing behind our slightly mysterious guide.
He began his work in salt panning at the age of 18. The years Savajibhai spent producing salt taught him all the skills necessary, making him an insider who understands the associated challenges and toil. 

Back in the 1980s, Savajibhai was offered a role at a local salt cooperative to handle the receipt book for salt truck transactions. In the subsequent years, he was promoted as book keeper. This gave him opportunity to travel through salt marshes,establishing a network with fellow salt workers and getting to know the local topography.

In 1997, the salt cooperative discontinued its operations, leaving him no other choice than to come back to being a salt-panner himself.It was not for long though. During that span, Central Salt and Marine Chemicals Research Institute employed him to monitor an experiment regarding effects of magnesium and calcium present in the product. In his new role, Savajibhai learned that to produce good quality salt, it is essential to maintain proportion of magnesium and calcium ions. Considering Savajibhai’s experience, traditional wisdom, and indigenous knowledge on salt production, SEWA created a role for him to work with the local community just a few years later. Today,Savajibhai helps install and maintain solar panels used by communities where SEWA works. 

This year, SEWA hopes to install over 650 new solar pumps with Savajibhai’s support. Such an ambitious project has not come without challenges. 
This season, the local company that installs the solar panels associated with the pumps was backlogged with work, so Savajibhai pitched in, providing his support to have the panels installed more quickly, and proposing that the company create a manual in the local language so that salt farmers can actually learn to install the panels themselves. 

Additionally, farmers have been experiencing a frequent breakage of the oil seal in the new pumps provided by the pump supplier, FALCON, due to corrosion from the salt brine. The company is working to improve pump design so that this seal last for a longer period of time. Savajibhai showed us that, at the bottom of the pump,sand adversely affects the oil seals and foot valves, leading to the pumps to stop working properly over time. 
Drawing attention to challenge, Savajibhai shared that in an older system, the system would give signals to the user when sand particles entered the pump so that the user could address the problem. However, in the new design of the technology, workers are not getting such signals. To address this, Savajibhai suggests that there is a need to establish a proper repair and maintenance system in the local markets so farmers need not to rely solely upon company. 

SEWA is blessed to have a dedicated worker like Savajibhai on its team.He is a comprehensive knowledge source of the salt production process and its business. People trust his words and believe in his approach. He keeps dreaming to improve salt pan workers’ lives, and welcomes the business of companies who can create easy-to-use and approachable solar pump solutions for the salt farmers of Little Rann of Kutch.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017
Vandana Pandya and Przemyslaw Pasich

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