Corrugated Board


Nitrogen Fixation: Feeding India
Group Members:Erin Thorsell, Michael Tseng, Danielle Morrison, Jon Khoo, Evan Bush, Lucas Van Winkle

Problem Statement:

We are tackling the issue of maintaining a steady food production in India; one main problem India faces is soil degradation. We are exploring different methods of nitrogen fixation to help the small town of Sanji, India improve their soil and increase agricultural crop output.


Figure 1: Here is the Indian population (blue line), both the current and possible projected growth


1. Find a community suffering from soil depletion
2. Find contacts and resources to help with communication
3. Develop method to solve problems for the specific community – with AT and education
4. Define Barriers

Our Focus Group:

India-Sainji-960x332 (2).jpg
Sainji, India


  • Sainji, India
  • Population: 300 people, 35 families
  • Weather: 100F in the summer, 60F in the winter
  • Climate: Very humid, lots of rainfall
  • “The soil has become very dry, and the water table has dropped, making it very difficult for villagers on the dry side of the valley to maintain their crops and feed their livestock”


  • Found that India has an issue with stripped topsoil due to over-use and arid climate
  • Large population: in need of large food production
  • Education of soil nutrition
  • Crop yields have gone down
  • Low rainfall has left soil dry


  • Local farmers need more education on how to deal with soil issues


  • Contact: Kim Smith, EWB
  • Partner Village: Sainji, India
  • Agriculture fairly advanced:
  • Terrace system
  • Irrigation system: canals
  • Fertilization: animal manure
  • Farming: manually or by animal
  • Main crops: corn and rice
  • Small scale crops: chilis and lentils

Soil Science Research:


Dry, stripped soil

Soil that has been stripped of its nutrients cannot be used to grow food. This causes a problem for farmers that are dependent on the success of their crops. Usually, farmers rotate from field to field in order to allow the nutrients in the soil to replenish and stay consistent and dependable. However, if farmers are unable to do this, they may overuse the land, stripping it of nutrients and ruining the soil.

Soil Facts:

The three basic nutrients needed for soil are: 1) potassium, 2) phosphorus, and 3) nitrogen.
Soil becomes de-fertilized through water erosion, wind erosion, and poor agricultural practices (such as not rotating fields) (Jalees, Kunwa)
22 percent of all cropland, pasture, forest and woodland has been degraded since mid-century (2 billion hectares worldwide) (International Food Policy Research Institute).
Nutrient depletion is predicted by the experts to cause serious problems in poor soil quality areas of northeastern India (International Food Policy Research Institute).
Because India has such a large population to feed, having fertile soil to produce food is vital.

Methods of Implementation:

Definition of Nitrogen Fixation:

  • The chemical processes by which atmospheric nitrogen is assimilated into organic compounds, esp. by certain microorganisms as part of the nitrogen cycle – Google Dictionary
  • The assimilation of atmospheric nitrogen by soil bacteria and its release for plant use on the death of the bacteria. -Princeton

Role of Nitrogen Fixation in Fertilizing Soil:
Nitrogen fixation is a process by which nitrogen (N2) in the atmosphere is converted into ammonia (NH3). Atmospheric

This diagram shows the process of creating Ammonia (NH3) from Nitrogen Molecules (NH2) with the help of the enzyme Nitrogenase

nitrogen or molecular nitrogen (N2) is relatively inert: it does not easily react with other chemicals to form new compounds. Fixation processes free up the nitrogen atoms from their diatomic form (N2) to be used in other ways.
Nitrogen fixation, natural and synthetic, is essential for all forms of life because nitrogen is required to biosynthesize basic building blocks of plants, animals and other life forms. Therefore nitrogen fixation is essential for agriculture and the manufacture of fertilizer.

Watch this video for an explanation of what Nitrogen Fixation is and how it works. This is a video we took of Greg Ellis from One Cool Earth explaining Nitrogen Fixation.

Organisms that Play a Role in Nitrogen Fixation:
In nature, specific bacteria termed, “Diazotrophs” are the only organisms that perform nitrogen fixation. However, certain plants have symbiotic relationship with these bacteria, and also play a role in creating ammonia from inert nitrogen. These plants are termed “legumes”.
According to Greg, our contact at One Cool Earth, these plants can be easily identified by having pods or beans. Some examples of legumes are Garbanzo plants, lentils, broad beans, and peas.
Legumes native to India: Garbanzo plants, lentils, pigeon peas, black eyed peas.

How Legumes can Help in Sainji, India:
As discussed earlier, plants that are part of the Legume family often have symbiotic relationships with bacteria termed “Diazotrophs” that fix nitrogen. These bacteria will fix inert nitrogen and chemically transform nitrogen molecules into ammonia, a common component in fertilizers. By identifying plants part of the Legume family that are native to India, we can combine nitrogen fixation and cardboard mulch to help refertilize “dead” soil. This natural, environmentally friendly, and potential waste reducing method will reduce downtime for farming, increasing income and profits for local farmers.

Steps of using Cardboard in Conjunction with Nitrogen Fixation
1. Place cardboard where you want to eliminate weeds and refertilize soil.
Cardboard over dirt.png
2. Cover it with woodchips or mulch to hold it in place.
3. Plant Nitrogen Fixing plants on top. (photo taken at Liberty High in Paso Robles)
4. Allow natural processes to occur; bacteria will use nitrogen fixation to enrich the soil, and the cardboard will block weeds, provide carbon, and attract beneficial earthworms.
Step 4.png
5. Before planting crops, use nitrogen fixing plants as extra mulch and fertilizer.

Stakeholder’s Analysis:

Interest At Stake In Relation To Project Effect of Project on Interests -O+ Stakeholder Importance for Project Success: U,1,2,3,4,5 Degree of Influence of Stakeholder: U,1,2,3,4,5
Farmers need their soil to be fertilized and rich in nutrients for agriculture production positive 5 2
Indian Citizens food consumption, quality of life positive 3 3
Indian Government country economy shift positively during months when soil would usually be stripped positive U 5
Indian Markets (local and abroad) sell produce positive 4 2
Food merchants Economic gain positive 4 2
Entrepreneurs potential job opportunities for helping use corrugated board positive 4 U
Fertilizer Companies already selling fertilizer to farmers negative U 5
Environmentally Friendly Groups non-profit help with implementation of nitrogen fixation as replacement fertilizer positive 2 3
Sellers of Farm Equipment Potentially increase sales as previously unused fields are used for agriculture positive 2 U
Engineers Without Borders provide information and use ideas to further their projects positive 5 3

Using a stakeholder’s analysis, we determined all of the factors that could affect our project; these factors ranged from culture and values, to the government and nearby companies. After listing all of the variable, we used two criteria – importance and influence – in order to determine which factors were the most important to our project’s success, and how influential they could be to our implementation.

For example, Engineers Without Borders, our main form of contact, scored very high for the importance of this project, but was not as influential. This is because while EWB is a critical part of our implementation plan, they do not have the influential power to destroy it. On the other hand, while the Indian government is not involved what-so-ever in our plan, they do have the legal authority to shut it down should it offend or violate their laws.

We found that the stakeholder’s analysis proved very important when finalizing our plan for implementation, and helped us recognize the key players for this project.

Holistic Approach:

  • Other ways to fertilize plants include humanure. However, because of it’s risks, social stigma, and complexity, we are advocating different solutions. See below for another Wiki considering humanure.
  • Many nitrogen fixing plants are already being planted in India, i.e. black eyed peas, chick peas, and pigeon peas
  • India produces or consumes nearly 85% of this market
  • We will cooperate with GOUN’s (The Garhwal Organization for the Upliftment of the Needy) Hothouse, who already run a school in Sainji that focuses on agricultural practices

What have we learned:

  • There are many different ways to solve every problem. (examples: mycoremediation, nitrogen fixation, humanure)
  • Many different groups assist communities all over the world.
  • Third world countries like India have very fundamental problems that we rarely think about in America.
  • Addressing the needs of third-world countries could be compared to finding the right puzzle piece because it is necessary to account for their cultural practices.
  • We can harness nitrogen-fixing plants in our own gardens and homes when we are homeowners.

Case Studies:

  • One Cool Earth

    • This organization, is working in Paso Robles, CA at Liberty High School.They implement nitrogen fixing plants and corrugated board mycoremediation. Greg Ellis explains his work at Liberty High School here
  • Engineers Without Borders

    • The Cal Poly Chapter of Engineers Without Borders. Some EWB members travel to Sanji, India annually.
  • Pete Schwartz

    • Physics professor at Cal Poly implements sustainable practices like those we have researched in his own home.
  • Humanure Wiki

    • Another Cal Poly group has researched the use of humanure as an alternative soil remediation technique.
  • GOUN’s Hothouse for GEMS

    • An organization already in Sainji that focuses on education, including agricultural education.

Plan for Implementation:

  • We are collaborating with Engineers Without Borders to create a educational experience for the people of Sanji, India.
  • After meeting with Greg Ellis of One Cool Earth we have educated EWB about methods of nitrogen fixation to pass along to the residents of Sanji, India.
  • Sanji residents are unaware why their crops are unable to grow, blaming it on weather patterns, according to EWB.
  • EWB will help us spread awareness of the deprivation of soil in Sanji so that they can implement sustainable agricultural practices

  • We would submit a program requisition form that EWB-USA requires for each of their projects. This form is very detailed and considers all factors ranging from money, to influential people, to the exact time required of the project.
EWB Submit a Project.png
Engineers Without Borders’ Website

Thank you Pete!!!