2017 Grant Winners: J-WAFS Grant for Water and Food Projects in India

J-WAFS Grants $15,000 to Two MIT Teams Addressing Water and Food Challenges in India

In fall 2017, J-WAFS announced a new grant opportunity for shovel-ready MIT projects that focus on water and food challenges in India. Since then, we received and reviewed a number of high quality proposals that together provided a snapshot of how MIT community members from across the Institute are finding creative solutions to issues that challenge India’s water and food sectors. An interdisciplinary faculty team conducted a rigorous review, and selected two winning projects to receive $15,000 to support work through December 2018.

2017 grant award winners:

Scaling a Decentralized Biomass Torrefaction Reactor for Localized Fertilizer Production that Improves Farmers’ Yields and Reduces Irrigation Needs

Project team: Kevin Kung, Postdoc, Department of Mechanical Engineering; Alex Slocum, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering; and Ahmed Ghoniem, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Currently, most of the world’s fertilizers are produced in capital and energy-intensive centralized facilities in North America, Europe, and China. As a result, rural farmers in the Global South often pay two to three times the cost of fertilizer elsewhere. This J-WAFS grant will support the launch of a pilot in Maharashtra, India, that seeks to solve this problem. The team has created a portable, low-cost reactor unit that converts post-harvest agricultural residues into organic fertilizer using torrefaction. This process heats agricultural residues (husks, stalks, and other organic materials that are otherwise considered waste) using conditions that turn this biomass into an alkaline carbon-rich substance which, when added to soils, promotes plant growth and retains nutrients and water effectively.

Conservation Credits for Groundwater Management

Project team: Ariel Zucker, PhD candidate, Department of Economics and Nick Hagerty, PhD candidate, Department of Economics

In India, groundwater is the source of 85% of drinking water and more than 60% of water for irrigation. However, this has resulted in over-extraction that poses a challenge to current and future agricultural production. New strategies for water management are needed to conserve these scarce resources while also increasing food production. This J-WAFS grant will support an experimental study to be conducted in partnership with J-PAL South Asia that will compare the use of conservation credits to the existing practice of providing micro-irrigation investment subsidies. Sited in rural India, the team hopes to discover whether conservation credits can more effectively improve water resource management among farmers.

The J-WAFS Grant for Water and Food Projects in India was made possible by a generous donation from MIT alumnus Kishore Mariwala SM '59.