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Centre for Rural Technology, Nepal

Upgraded water mills in the Himalayas

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An upraded mill allows a miller to grind grain more efficiently

If you are a small farmer in the Himalayan mountains you probably rely on a traditional water-mill to produce your flour. These mills have been used for centuries, but the problem is that they are neither efficient nor robust. Many use wood in their key parts, limiting life spans to just two years.

CRT/N’s solution is to upgrade mills using precision metal and synthetic parts. More durable than the original wood, they not only last longer, but grind faster and can work with less water. Estimates suggest that grinding capacity has doubled. The parts are manufactured locally by approved suppliers, generating much-needed employment, while subsidies cover some of the cost. Basic upgrades cost about US$350, whilst an extra US$700 adds the option of running a rice-huller, sawmill or electric generator.

By 2009, 5,700 water mills had been upgraded, providing better services to about 300,000 families. They have also decreased the use of CO2-emitting diesel-powered mills which previously had been increasing as the traditional mills struggled with demand.

Operating a watermill used to be a precarious existence. Now it is a profitable one. Operators are expanding their activities and forming associations. And their clients are, in the words of one user, having shorter waits for better tasting bread.