Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Getting Water to Crops

Cross posted from Border Jumpers, Danielle Nierenberg and Bernard Pollack.

In 1999, when he purchased his first treadle pump, Robert Mwanza, a farmer in Lusaka, Zambia, was struggling to  make ends meet and without reliable access to water. As his country dealt with  drought and economic weakness, Robert lacked the necessary resources to irrigate  his farm and “couldn’t grow enough to eat, let alone sell.”

Access to  water is a luxury that many rural households, particularly in sub-Saharan  Africa, do not have. Farmers must often travel long distances to collect water  from streams or public wells, making it impossible to irrigate crops or have  enough water for cooking and bathing.

But affordable technologies such as  the treadle pump (a foot-powered pump that sits on top of a well  and irrigates small plots of land), the rope  pump (a manually powered alternative to the treadle pump), and a variety of  water storage systems (made of plastic and used as sources for  sprinkler or drip irrigation systems) are changing all of that. The systems are  developed and supported by International Development Enterprises (IDE), an organization  working to improve the livelihoods of farmers in 13 countries in Asia and Africa  through improved agriculture technology and market access. (See also: Harnessing  Too Much of a Good Thing, Addressing  Soil Erosion to Improve Production, Income, and Nutrition, and Persistently  Innovative: One Farmer Teaches by Example.)

IDE is making irrigation  more efficient by combining technology specially designed to address the needs  of small-scale farmers with on-the-ground support staff to provide training and  education. This allows farmers to expand their farms, feed their families, and  earn a profit from selling surplus crops.

After just two years of  improved irrigation provided by a treadle pump, Robert Mwanza grew more than  enough vegetables to feed his wife and eight children. He also earned enough  money to purchase an additional pump, doubling the amount of land he could  irrigate. He recruited his brother, Andrew Mwanza, to work the additional pump,  and in three years, with the help of IDE field staff, Robert began to sell his  produce to Agriflora, a company that exports high-quality vegetables to Europe.  Now the two brothers are growing enough vegetables to afford a motorized petrol  pump for $750, further reducing the labor required to increase  production.

To read more about the importance of getting water to crops,  as well as other examples of innovations that help farmers do this, see: Water Harvesting, Weathering the Famine, and Persistently Innovative: One Farmer Teaches by Example.

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1 comment

  1. It isn’t just that you are reporting on good things (and doing good things).  I like that.  But you talk about all this without even the smallest inflection of the lecturing, hectoring, chastising superior tone that is far too often associated with discussions of the topics you cover.  You write like the better writers in The Economist, covering issues that everyone cares about without flinging causastional accusations like barbed commas.  Your articles would be just as at home in the newsletters of conservative Christian newsletters as on a Progressive blog.

    You guys really rock.  I’m very glad I’ve been able to know you.  

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