Innovation of the Month: iDE Brings Water to Dry Soils Around the World

By Molly Redfield

Approximately 1.2 billion people live in water-scarce areas of the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Farming, a water-intensive endeavor, is responsible for nearly 70 percent of human water use worldwide and can exacerbate situations of scarcity, the FAO says. Meanwhile, improved water management could double crop yields in many parts of the world, according to the International Water Management Institute. With this in mind, organizations such as International Development Enterprises (iDE) strive to improve water management practices around the world.

In Bangladesh, a woman irrigates her family’s rice field using a treadle pump. (Photo credit: iDE)

iDE, whose mission is to create income and livelihood opportunities for poor rural households, is dedicated to increasing the availability of affordable micro-irrigation technologies. The organization promotes technologies such as treadle pumps, rope pumps, drip irrigation, sprinkle irrigation, water storage systems, multiple water use systems, and ceramic water purifiers in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In these regions, iDE also champions greater gender equality, nutrition, and sanitation, providing women and the rural poor with greater access to both education and technological resources.

The treadle pump is perhaps iDE’s most famous technological innovation. The pump, which ranges from US$20 to $100, attaches to a well and draws groundwater to the surface by way of a manually powered suction system. Not only do treadle pumps increase farmers’ access to water in areas where surface water is scarce, but they enable farmers to grow crops during both the wet and dry seasons. Increased access to water, particularly in water-scarce regions like rural Zambia, can enable subsistence farmers to produce enough food to create a surplus, helping poor farmers to generate income, according to iDE.

iDE’s success with the treadle pump has inspired similar projects led by the FAO, individual Kickstarter campaigns, and Enterprise Works to expand treadle pump use in poor parts of the world. To date, more than 2 million pumps have been sold and are in use worldwide. In recognition of its achievements, iDE has received the 2004 Tech Award: Accenture Economic Development Award, the 2010 Nestlé Prize in Creating Shared Value, and the 2010 International Design Excellence Award.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Worldwatch Institute’s Nourishing the Planet project.

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