Water is the liquid of life. We cannot live without. It is a life giver and a life saver – and yet we increasingly hear talk a water crunch. Increased global populations and demand from agriculture already mean that some people around the world are now facing water shortages and many people feel in the future we will all be living in a much thirstier world.
Although the problem is now most keenly felt in the poorer places in the world, I’ve headed off to one of the richest – where exists the rather trendy headquarters of a company which is trying to help those in most need.
Martin Fisher is the CEO of Kickstart. He spent decades in Africa working on community projects –many involved improving access to fresh water.
Standing in his New York office, what I am looking at – is rather like a heavy metal version of a gym Stairmaster workout kit. It is a bit of simple tech – using a tried and tested reciprocating pump valve that relies on suction and pressure – powered by humans.
Its purpose is to help farmers irrigate their land. One person does the work out on the foot operated pump – the other takes the hose. The more you walk, the more water you pump.
It looks simple and indeed I was surprised this isn’t part of the basic agricultural tools many farmers must already have. But even today in many poorer parts of the world, traditional agriculture still relies on regular rain during the one or two rainy seasons. If it doesn’t rain – the food doesn’t grow.
When you can only grow food when it rains – there’s an economic problem as well as an agricultural one.
When all of the farmers pick their crops at once, the market becomes flooded with produce during certain months and as a result at the very time farmers have something to sell – the over supply of produce forces prices down.
It’s a painful Catch 22. When prices are high – farmers have nothing to sell and when they are low farmers have too much produce.
Seasonal farming can leave communities stuck in a cycle of poverty and hunger.
KickStart introduced human powered pumps for irrigation in 1997 to address this problem. The pumps are sold for between US$35 and US$100. KickStart estimates that farmers using irrigation during dry seasons increase their annual incomes by over US$1000. It’s why they’ve called their foot pump – The Money Maker.
As I hear the trucks of New York delivering produce to warehouses, as we hear planes fly overhead and as we sip on coffees which no doubt would cost more than the average weekly wage of many of those we are talking to – the simple bit of kit in front of us looks rather unimpressive.
But KickStart estimates that its irrigation pumps have brought over US$100 million to rural communities throughout the developing world. They believe this is helping solve not just a water issue, but it’s alleviating hunger and helping economies at the same time.