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Improved Water Mills in Nepal NGO Promotion
By Ganesh Ram Shrestha, Lumin Kumar Shrestha, Centre for Rural Technology (CRT), Nepal. Shortened by the editors.
40,000 families have benefited until now from the program.
The grinding capacity doubles and the quality is increasing.
CRT, a Nepalese NGO and member of INFORSE, is active in improving water mills.
25-40,000 traditional water mills in operation can be improved in the future.

Hydropower has been in use in Nepal for centuries for grinding grain. These water mills (ghattas) have wooden blades/shafts and a low power output (less than 0.5 kW). It is estimated that about 25-40,000 traditional inefficient water mills are in operation. These mills cannot serve the increasing processing needs of the people.
Since 1990, the Centre for Rural Technology (CRT), a Nepalese NGO and member of INFORSE, has been actively involved in the promotion and dissemination of the improved water mills by motivating and supporting the local water mill owners. With German GTZ support, CRT is making efforts to improve the mills’ efficiency (up to around 3 kW) and use the power for diversified activities such as efficient agro-processing (grain grinding, paddy hulling, oil expelling).
The improvement has been achieved mainly by replacing the wooden runners and shafts with metallic ones.
So far, 467 units of traditional ghattas have been improved in Nepal. This has generated additional power of 712 kW to be used for various rural applications.
The improvement work has so far served about 40,000 rural families (about 60 families/ghatta.) These 467 improved units comprise only 2% of the existing traditional water mills, a fact which indicates the tremendous potential for improvement activities in the country.
CRT’s Promotion Process:
Information collection and assessment of needs
Collaborating with partner organizations
Identification of innovative traditional mill owners and demonstration sites
Demand collection for the installation
Survey work
Support for linkages with bank and manufacturers
Organising field-based training on operation and management
Identify local promoters
Regular follow-up/monitoring and feedback collection
Further promotion through trained local promoters
Double Grinding Capacity
The traditional mill’s power output ranges between 0.2-0.5 kW and the grinding capacity ranges between 10-20 kg maize per hour. Improvement of these traditional water mills is achieved by improving the various components of the mill, but the major break-through is replacing the traditional wooden runner with a metallic runner that has a better hydraulic design with cup shaped blades. The improved power output ranges between 0.5-2.5 kW and the grinding capacity ranges between 20-50 kg maize per hour.
Increased Income & Status
The water mills are owned either individually or on group/community partnership basis. Generally, the owner is also the operator. The grain-processing fee is collected mostly in kind and ranges in the ratio from 1:10 to 1:15.
The mill owner’s income has increased because of the increased processing capacity. The mill can process more grain and in this way attracts more customers from distant villages. The customers are also willing to pay a higher service charge for more efficient processing. The pay-back period for the additional investment made on the water improvement is about 6 months.
With the operation of the traditional water mill, only 50 to 75 % of the flour/grain consumed by the mill owner’s family came from flour collected from the mill as service charge. After improvement, the service charge collected is enough to feed the family. In some cases, they can even sell extra flour in the local market.
The improved water mill owners now have a higher social status in the village, and the enterprise is considered to be prestigeous.
Operation Time Reduced
The higher efficiency has reduced the necessary hours of operation, which has reduced the drudgery for the owners. Previously, they used to operate their mills day and night (24 hours), especially during the season and festivals. The improved mill generally operates 6 to 12 hours. The decreased processing time also means a drastically shorter waiting time for the village customers. The time saved is utilised for household sanitation, child care etc.
The operation period during dry season was also extended because the mill can be operated with low discharge of water. Some new mills have also been installed at sites where the traditional type can not operate due to insufficient water flow.
Better Quality
The flour from the improved mill is finer than that of the traditional one. The quality is also better than that of the diesel mill. Since the rpm of the grinding stone of the diesel mill is much more (about 700) than that of the grinding stone (natural) of the improved water mill (about 100 rpm), more heat is generated which deteriorates the taste and keeping quality of the flour.
Less Repair, Better Jobs
The traditional mill owners had to replace the wooden runner every 2 years, while the improved mill runner can be used for more than 10 years. The owners had to tighten the wooden blades of the runner every 2 to 3 days. The improved mill only requires the fixing of the pin bearing every 2-3 months.
The technical and management skill of the improved mill owners needs to be upgraded through proper need assessment, and training, especially when they are willing to diversify the end uses. Strengthening of the technical capability of the local blacksmiths and promoters is also needed for the promotion and repair/maintenance of the mills. Consequently, local blacksmiths, carpenters and technicians receive better job opportunities as their technical capabilities are enhanced.
Gender Involvement
If the mill is far away from the village (e.g. more than a 1-hour walk), men are involved in carrying the grain to the mill. The frequency of going to the mill is in this case about twice a month, and the amount of grain taken at a time ranges from 50-75 kg. In a village where the mills are within a short distance, men, women and children are equally involved. The frequency is about 4-5 times per month and the amount of the grain taken to the mill ranges from 5 - 40 kg.
More End-Use Applications
Most of the improved mills disseminated are of the short-shaft type and are only used for grinding. Only a few of the improved mills have a long shaft for multi-purpose application like paddy hulling, and very few can generate electricity. Rural entrepreneurs generally lack the technical, managerial and risk-bearing capacity to go for bigger-scale technology such as cross-flow turbines and other existing micro-hydro technologies. The high acceptance of the short-shaft improved ghatta is due to increased processing capacity; low additional investment cost and risk; simple modification in the existing ghatta set-up; low level of technology; good quality of processed grains; and less repair and maintenance required.
Presently, adequate research, development and financing schemes are lacking for wide dissemination of the diversified uses of the improved mills. The electricity generation option is also affected by the expected extension of the national grid, which is either not fulfilled or fulfilled after a long waiting period. The generated electricity, however, would provide proper lighting with social benefits such as longer working hours and study hours for children.
Subsidy & Support Needed
Water mills generally belong to the poorest section of society and serve many beneficiaries a source of energy for grinding. However, there is no subsidy provision for improved water mills like that provided for biogas plants, irrigation technology, solar energy technology etc.
The water mills have not been given the necessary priority in the national planning process. Most decision makers lack proper insights into the importance of improved water mills, and commitment to their promotion. District-level support agencies need to include the improved water mill promotion activity in their Annual Plan and implement it as part of their rural development project. To achieve this, thorough orientation is needed at all levels.
The inter-links have to be strengthened among the research organisations and local bodies such as district and village development committees, government extension agents, local banks and GO/NGO community based support organisations.
More Flexible Loans Needed
The majority of the mill owners installed the improvement kit by paying its full cost, but some also received bank loans. Our experience is that the financing institutions generally have to be more supportive and rural minded in relation to the mill owners and make simpler lending procedures. However, there have been changes in the financial policy of the banks in recent months.
Phase out Diesel
Since water mills must compete with diesel mills run by subsidised diesel oil, there should be subsidy support for improved water mill promotion as well. Such support could be for hardware, software and interest. From the environmental and economical aspect, improved water mills should be given more focus than the diesel mill with a view towards sustainable development of power for enterprise development in mountainous regions. Systematic phasing out of diesel mills needs to be given highest priority.
Improved installations have already reduced the number of diesel mill installations and the consumption of diesel oil, and subsequently reduced the draining of money out of the village. But the diesel mill is still a threat to the water mills, as villagers sometimes prefer it due to its fast processing even though the processing charge is comparatively high and the quality is poor.
Further Efficiency Potential
There is need for continuous and adoptive research to develop more appropriate and more versatile technical solutions for the wider acceptance of the technology. This could be done in the areas of water intake from the canal, the chute, grinding stone and mill housing.
Database Needed
A database and an inventory study is needed on the number and status of the existing water mills and the potential scope for the improvements required. This could be the basis for a proper long-term plan and an implementation project. More information:
Centre for Rural Technology (CRT) PO. Box 3628, Kathmandu, Nepal.
Ph: +977-1-260165/-256819, fax: +977-1-257922,
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