September 29, 2014

In Gandhi’s Footsteps

Biplab Ketan Paul of India, a 2004 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) alumnus, follows Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of “Sarvodaya from Antyodaya.” Loosely translated, this guiding principle means “the development of all through the weakest of society.” Biplab’s ardent commitment to India’s economically disadvantaged communities is at the heart of “Bhungroo,” his innovative farming method for harvesting storm water. 
Bhungroos are used in India, but the concept was generated almost 10,000 miles away in Miami, Florida. During Biplab’s IVLP, he visited Miami and learned how the city secures water for residents of Miami-Dade County in salinity-affected regions. Bhungroo techniques help farmers maintain a healthy supply of water in dry months and reduce the salt content in the soil. This allows farmers to grow crops in seasons that were previously considered inhospitable for significant growth. When Biplab returned to India, after his IVLP program, he considered how he could use those methods to help disadvantaged farmers in salinity- and disaster-affected areas in Gujarat. In this video, Biplab explains how Bhungroo technology works. Biplab has not patented the technology as he says, “it would increase cost and limit accessibility.” In 2007, Biplab’s invention was lauded as one of the best socially innovative technologies for poverty eradication by World Bank’s Development Marketplace.
Through this technology, Biplab helps to ensure food security and financial independence for rural communities with daily family incomes averaging $0.25. While the project began in western India, Biplab is now helping farmers around the world. Bhungroo technology was shortlisted by USAID and the World Bank to be part of the Feed the Future program in Africa. Through Feed the Future partnerships in India, an African team was trained on how to use a Bhungroo. Biplab feels that “one session in IVLP was successful in helping me create a high water mark change in the life of the poorest of poor farmers in India, and now it is poised to eliminate food insecurity issues in Africa as well.”  
Biplab’s core disciplines are in the humanities, but his life changing IVLP experience encouraged him to pursue research in technical aspects of geohydrology, soil chemistry, agriscience, civil engineering, and mechanical engineering. Each year he shares what he learned on his IVLP with more than 200 students, cutting across all the above disciplines to encourage them to think out-of-the-box and create new ideas to assist people around the world.
Each month, the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Alumni Affairs Division, which supports program alumni as they build on their exchange experiences, recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna.  Biplab Ketan Paul is this month’s outstanding alumnus, and his work will be recognized throughout September on the International Exchange Alumni website, ECA’s official alumni website which serves more than one million Department-sponsored exchange alumni worldwide.