Today is WaterWired's "Hydrophilanthropy Day".
Peter Smith of the Christian Science Monitor recently (23 July 2008) reported on aid worker/inventor/social entrepreneur Martin Fisher, who has invented inexpensive irrigation pumps for use in developing regions.His pumps have helped farmers improve production and earn more money.
Fisher views the poor not as victims, but as entrepreneurs. What a novel concept!
I am intrigued by this; I've seen a number of human-powered pumps but were generally ones used to provide drinking water. Since my work in developing countries has dealt mainly with potable water, I've never really looked for "low-tech" irrigation pumps.
As an aid worker in Africa, Martin Fisher says he saw a twofold problem: A lack of irrigation made it difficult for impoverished rural farmers to make money, and the irrigation pumps provided by many foreign aid programs lay broken and unused.
“All too often we do more harm than good,” says Mr. Fisher. “I realized that when it comes down to it, a poor person has only one need: A way to make more money.”
Fisher, an aluminum expert by training, has developed a series of low-cost, manual water pumps that can be used to irrigate farms up to two acres in size. In turn, farmers can increase their yields and grow produce for market.
“It’s providing a tool. If that’s all it was that would be good,” says Erik Hersman, a South African expat who blogs about ingenuity on the continent at Afrigadget.com. “But what Martin Fisher’s doing is he’s encouraging people to start a business – to be entrepreneurs.”
Sometimes, Mr. Hersman says, these tools and the money they create spur additional innovation and spin-off businesses, like pumping services.
See this video about Fisher, demonstrating his pump. He and Nick Moon formed the nonprofit KickStart, which developed tools and other devices for Kenyans so that they could set up their own enterprises. KickStart then developed the MoneyMaker pumps. The group now has offices in Kenya, Tanzania, and Mali. It has 225 employees, all but six of whom grew up near the KickStart office where they work.
The CSM story adds:
The pumps cost as little as $100, which Fisher says is the true market price, not subsidized by his group.
“We don’t give anybody anything,” he says. “It’s technology and the power of marketplace that can take people out of poverty. It’s really about the power of design and technology.”
I have a colleague who swears the world's water and related problems will be solved solely by big organizations. He's wrong; it'll be people like Martin Fisher and those he helps who will be doing the heavy lifting.
“The pessimist always finds difficulty in opportunity and the optimist always finds opportunity in difficulty.” -- Anonymous