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Frugal Innovations

By   /  January 4, 2016  /  Comments Off on Frugal Innovations

Frugal innovating is the art of using human ingenuity to create solutions from the resources at hand. Farmers and ranchers are usually born frugal innovators, but we could all use a little inspiration to improve those skills. Here you go!

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“When you grow up in a developing country, you instinctively learn to get more value from limited resources, and find creative ways to use what you already have,” says Navi Radjou at the beginning of his TED talk. As examples of what he means he gives some examples:

• A potter in India created a refrigerator entirely of clay that uses no electricity and can keep fruits and vegetables cool for days.

Water billboard in Peru• In Lima, Peru, an area that is high in humidity, yet receives only 1″ of precipitation, a college engineering intern is creating water out of thin air.  He designed a giant advertising billboard that absorbs humidity and turns it into 90 liters (23 gallons) of water a day.

Many of these frugal innovations are created by people who have no fancy laboratory with abundant resources. Instead, their streets are their labs, and they use our most abundant resource, human ingenuity, to come up with solutions to problems. In India they actually have a Hindi word for this: Jugaad. It means an improvised fix, or a clever solution born in adversity, and as Radjou says, “These solutions are not sophisticated or perfect, but they create more value at a lower cost. They transform adversity into opportunity and turn something of low value into something of value.”

UsesForBalingTwineThough we don’t have a word like this in English, and I’m not aware of it in the three other languages I studied, French, Russian and Lakota, I think it perfectly describes what most farmers and ranchers do on a daily basis. It comes from looking at a problem, thinking about it in a way that doesn’t involve heading to the store, and then creating a solution from what you have at hand. So, though some of the innovations he describes in his video are beyond what we do, I thought you’d appreciate Radjou’s video as inspiration for doing more with less in the new year. His examples show how people all over the world are looking at and thinking about problems from a different direction to create inexpensive, effective solutions.

Last, Radjou shares three principles we can use in our own operations to help us do more with less:

  1. Keep it simple. Don’t create solutions just to impress customer. Make them easy to use and accessible.
  2. Do not reinvent the wheel. Leverage existing resources and assets that are widely available.
  3. Think and act horizontally. Growing vertically makes you less agile than if you spread out. As an example we might relate to, instead of buying expensive land, consider leasing. Instead of buying cattle, consider custom grazing.

So when you’re taking a break for a cup of coffee or a snack enjoy this 16 minute video, and if you’re so inspired, share some of your frugal innovations. Or, if you’d just like to see some inspired farm hacks, here are past articles you might like.

Link for tablet readers.


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  • Published: 5 years ago on January 4, 2016
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  • Last Modified: January 4, 2016 @ 6:30 pm
  • Filed Under: Money Matters

About the author

Publisher, Editor and Author

Kathy worked with the Bureau of Land Management for 12 years before founding Livestock for Landscapes in 2004. Her twelve years at the agency allowed her to pursue her goal of helping communities find ways to live profitably AND sustainably in their environment. She has been researching and working with livestock as a land management tool for over a decade. When she's not helping farmers, ranchers and land managers on-site, she writes articles, and books, and edits videos to help others turn their livestock into landscape managers.

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