Foot powered pumps set to monetize food growing

Two economists are studying the marketing, financing and impact of a human powered treadle irrigation pump among Kenya’s smallholder farmers as demand for more food by a growing population and changes in weather push more farmers away from rainfed irrigation.

Thomas Byers and Douglas Young from Washington State University have spent time in Kenya to understand the viability of different financing models and how the successful uptake of low cost irrigation methods in Kenya could help other African farmers combat hunger and build assets.

Working with Kickstart International a company that designs and sells simple tools, like the MoneyMaker irrigation pump, for small farmers, the two economists say growing population in Africa projected to hit 2.4 billion by 2050 will create unprecedented demand for food. As such producing food using top technologies will be of utmost importance.

“As Kenya’s population has grown from 10 to 45 million in four and a half decades, farm families have been pushed onto more and more marginal land. Where feasible, human-powered irrigation pumps will help improve the livelihood of these hardworking people,” said Byers.

Byers and Young will lead three surveys during two years. First, they will identify groups of farmers in different locations where adequate water permits use of the pumps. A second survey will determine how three financing methods- layaway savings, rent-to-own and cash – affect purchase and adoption of treadle pump irrigation technology. This survey will also monitor adoption of the pumps among women, poor households and other groups.

A third impact survey will measure how use of the pumps over an 18-month period influenced family nutrition, health, income and education enrollment of children. The final survey will also include a control group that did not purchase pumps in order to make comparisons. KickStart strives to help people in developing countries overcome poverty in a sustainable way by designing and marketing simple tools that smallholder farmers can buy and use to make money.

The philosophy is that selling these tools, rather than giving them away, allows farmers to invest in their own futures rather than taking a handout. Since 1998, KickStart has been making and marketing treadle pumps in Africa, with 242,642 sold to date.

Given Kenya’s rich portfolio of cash crops including coffee, tea, cotton, pyrethrum, tropical fruit, and cut flowers, irrigation has been touted to create much needed job growth. Kenya’s large population stimulates demand for irrigated food crops.

“Unfortunately, a large scale transition to better-paying jobs in the manufacturing and service sectors does not seem promising in the short run for Kenya due to intense competition from China, India, Brazil, Mexico, East Asia and South Africa,” Young said.