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Irrigation pump helps rural Indian farmers

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Staff Writers
New Delhi (UPI) Dec 23, 2010
For rural farmers in India, an irrigation pump means no longer having to depend on unreliable monsoon showers to sustain livelihoods.

But typical diesel-generated irrigation pumps, costing at least $880, are not affordable for India's subsistence farmers who till less than 5 acres.

International Development Enterprises India, a New Delhi-based non-profit organization, offers a low-cost solution: the treadle pump.

The portable 40-pound device works by dropping the attached pipe into a dug well, a river or hill spring. An hour's worth of foot pedaling can draw up to 1,320 gallons of water; 2 hours of pedaling can generate enough water to irrigate 1.25 acres of dry season vegetables.

The treadle pump is particularly suited to regions with high water tables such as in eastern India.

"Farming in India is planned around the monsoon. But that allows farmers to grow only one crop. If they have a reliable system of irrigation throughout the year, they can grow more than one crop on their land," Amitabha Sadangi, chief executive officer of IDEI, told Livemint.

More than 70 percent of Indian farmers are small landholders, cultivating land less than 2.5 acres.

Sadangi launched IDEI in 2001 to create low-cost irrigation techniques suited to small plots. The organization's mission is to stimulate a sustainable and free market by creating demand for affordable technologies and ensuring a sustainable supply chain, according to its Web site.

IDEI has helped nearly 1 million rural poor people to progress from subsistence agriculture to small-scale commercial farming.

IDEI says the pump is easy enough for children and elderly people to use, and it can also be operated while sitting.

Pointing out that marginalized farmers cannot invest much more than their labor, Sadangi says affordability "is crucial. We keep the cost and maintenance as low as possible."

Despite its low cost -- between $12 and $44 -- many farmers still can't afford the pump. To tackle this issue, IDEI plans to disburse loans to half a million farmers by next year with nano-financing arranged through $20 million from U.S. financier JP Morgan.

IDEI is not directly involved in sales, instead relying on a private marketing channel comprised of village-based distributors, dealers, government sales depots and NGOs.

"My aim is to make the farmer think of the next crop or next season -- not about the next meal," Sadangi says.

"When a farmer can think beyond the next meal, he can think of his family's nutrition, his children's education, thereby creating a sustainable chain."

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