First of all thank you all for the appreciation and interest taken in the achievement.
This post is about the article that recently appeared in Malayala Manorama news paper. Many of you asked for a translation on my Facebook post. So here’s the post, its translation and clarification. The translation is a line by line translation, so there could be stuff lost/added in translation
5.6 lakhs award for an invention from a Malayalee
Is the copra dry ? Digital meter will tell
Kozhikode: 5.6 Lakhs was awarded by Millennium Alliance to Malayalee scientist for developing portable digital copra moisture meter. Sunish Issac, from Perambra was selected from over 16,000 applicants on a national level. He’s the first Keralite to win the award. His invention will simplify the process of checking whether copra is dry enough for oil extraction. Currently its done by manually crushing the copra by using hands. Because of this most of the time farmers will not get the optimal price for the crop. 5-6% is the ideal moisture content and if its more the price would be reduced accordingly.
Since the article was covered in all editions of Manorama got quite a good number of calls from friends, family and well wishers. The kind of impact of newspapers is still so huge in Kerala/India.
Now about the selection process
1) Road shows were conducted by Millennium Alliance(MA) all over India, including Calicut inviting for innovations from individuals, universities, government and private institutions in various fields including Agriculture,Education, Energy, Health care,
2) Online application form submission, supposedly there were more than 16000 applicants.
3) Around 2000 were asked to send detailed proposals
4) 42 were selected and had to undergo due diligence and were invited to give a presentation to a big panel comprising people from USAid, FICCI, Technology Development Board and other organizations.
5) 15 people selected with varying amounts of funding. Among the 15, only 2 in agriculture and my digital copra moisture meter is one of the two.
- The amount awarded is for converting the prototype to a full product and will be provided in tranches of 30%:30%:30%:10% based on the milestones.
- As of 12-12-2014 no amount has been transferred
- The award function was conducted in a grand function at Delhi. Sri Nithin Gadkari handed over the awards followed by an exhibition of the innovators.The awardees are listed on the Millennium Alliance website at http://www.millenniumalliance.in/Round2Awardees.aspxNow the story behind why I went into the development of moisture meter. In 2004 when my father passed away and I had to take care of our family business. I had some idea of the movie business but was clueless on the coconut oil mill. I knew that the most important part of the business was in buying as per my dad. I found it illogical to guess the price of copra based on just visual inspection.
Being interested in technology I found that there was this moisture meter developed by Kasargod CPCRI (Centre for Plantation Crop Institute) was costing around 2.8 K INR.
Got one, only to find that it’s not very accurate. It can say whether its dry or not but not exact percentages. If copra is fully dried and ready for oil extraction the moisture content should be 5-6%, in colloquial terms that is full dry. If the moisture percentage is say 7 % it would be stated as 1Kg loss per quintal (100KG) So if there is 2KG loss per quintal estimated that means the price offered to seller would be reduced by the estimated loss.
Interestingly the scientist at CPCRI Dr. Madhavan who developed the moisture meter in 1980’s was a colleague of my friend Manoj Samuel. He was very helpful in giving the details and by that time I had opened the meter to find the circuit which was an astable multi vibrator whose out put was passed through the probe and then rectified and sent to a micro ammeter. There was a simple calibration mechanism. As the meter was measuring conductivity and since the variation of conductivity with moisture was non linear the meter will not be able to give accurate results. A simple way to increase accuracy was to have a lookup table and display a fixed value for all in between variations.
I was able to tabulate the values of conductivity of copra in various stages of drying. To fasten the process, I used a microwave in baking mode and then compared the weight and conductivity. I made an important discovery during the process which is counter intuitive, but known by old copra merchants. When the copra is hot it will have lower conductivity and higher weight. I was told by Dr. Madhavan, who designed the original moisture meter that the assumption is right and the values have to be taken only on reaching room temperature. However I had to drop my tests in between when I had to return the accurate weighing machine that I had on loan.
Last year, after attending the Millennium Alliance(MA) road show at Calicut I applied in agriculture section and energy. Digital Copra Moisture meter was selected for detailed submission and the energy project was rejected. MA looks for bottom of pyramid innovations and since this helps coconut farmers and can be applied to other crop drying fields it got selected.
Just before the Delhi presentation I visited Kerafed as I came to know that they are using something else for measuring moisture. Its the NIR (Near Infra Red )moisture analyser which is very expensive in tunes of 6-7 lakhs. That added lots of value to the prototyped moisture meter.
Here’s the summary of the project as a one page document published in the MA awardee booklet.
Copra is the dried kernel extracted from the coconut shell. It is crushed to extract coconut oil and oil cake. The quality of oil depends heavily on the moisture content of the copra. One of the important issues with coconut/copra farming is, estimating the price of copra based on its dryness. This is currently done purely based on the experience of the estimator. The farmer always thinks that he’s supposed to get a better price when the copra merchants feel it is not dried enough. There is also lots of time, energy and man power wasted if the drying process is not stopped when the ideal moisture percentage of 5-6% is reached. The challenge exists in most food crops that are dried for preservation or processing.
The following solutions are available to check the moisture content, but they have drawbacks.
NIR Analyzer (Near Infra Red))
Very Expensive (6-7 Lakhs)
· Non portable
· Time consuming
· Designed for lab use
· Calibration required
Imported Copra Moisture Meter.
i. Supports lots of features
ii. Very expensive (US$ 1795) http://www.kett.com/proddetail.asp?prod=HX120
Copra Moisture Meter from CPCRI
· Inaccurate in giving exact moisture percentage and for values more than 6%.
· Not user friendly.
· Values manually averaged.
Solution (Portable Digital Copra Moisture Meter)
Following are the key benefits of Portable Moisture Meter:
· Very accurate
· User friendly
· 3 different models to suit farmers, merchants and lab grade users.
· Auto Power Off to save batteries
· Cost effective usable technology for farmers and merchants
· Prevents wastage of time in drying
· Prevents wastage of fuel
· Brings transparency to buying and selling of copra
· Government organizations like NAFED,KERAFED other NGO’s will benefit from the speed and accuracy
· Agricultural scientists can use it for quick measurement of moisture as its portable
Since the moisture values can be displayed as percentage as well as in the format required by conventional merchants and farmers, it will be more usable.
Potential to Scale / Global Transfer
The technology can be used for other crops in agriculture and has industrial applications. Wherever fast and accurate moisture measurements are needed, the moisture meter can be used. Only the calibration data needs to be changed based on the material.
Since the device is portable it can directly be used on the field. The device can be connected to a mobile or tab to do data collection and analysis.
Apart from the coconut cultivating countries, the product can be used in other geographical areas for other moisture measurement applications like drying of fruits and vegetables.
For those who have reached this far, you too can apply for the next round of Millennium Alliance Awards by applying at http://millenniumalliance.in/applyNow.aspx The online applications are being accepted since November 25th.