Private sector meets strong demand for simple water pumps

Sustaining crops and creating jobs with human-powered pumps

Farmer Adama Sawadogo, left, with his treadle pump.


Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso -- When the rains come to the Sahel, a dry swath of territory that runs across Africa from east to west below the Sahara, reservoirs and wells fill up, providing the irrigation water that allows farmers to make a modest living from the sandy soil. Traditionally, labourers have hauled water by hand, carrying it to the fields in watering cans. It is tedious work in the punishing sun, and farmers can only cultivate as much land as they and their families and/or hired labourers can water.

Now, affordable treadle pumps introduced by FAO's Special Programme for Food Security have become popular among small farmers. The Programme provided the first demonstration pumps but now has trained five private metal working shops around the country to manufacture them and sell them commercially.

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Adama Sawadogo, a farmer in Goinré, a village in northern Burkina Faso, is showing visitors how well his treadle pump works. As a labourer steps up and down on the treadles, water is drawn up through eight metres of plastic pipe inserted down the well, then along another pipe to an adjacent field. A second man diverts water down individual rows of tomatoes and okra. The pump can easily be dismantled and moved to another well by donkey, hand-drawn cart or even a bicycle.

Return on investment
"If you have the means to buy it, a motorized pump is better," says Mr Sawadogo. "It can irrigate 4 to 6 hectares. But I had a motorized pump and it broke, and for various reasons it never got fixed." He uses the treadle pump to water fields up to 2 hectares in size. While a motorized pump costs over US $300, Mr Sawadogo paid just 45 000 CFA francs (US$65) for the treadle pump. "But I made that back in the first season, plus enough profit to pay for the next season's inputs," he adds.

Workmen put finishing touches to treadle pumps at a workshop in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.


Development history in Africa is strewn with the remains of sophisticated machinery introduced by well-meaning aid projects. After the project is over, poor farmers typically are unable to maintain the machines, which eventually break down and are abandoned.

E.K. Tapsoba, former Minister of Rural Development in the Government of Burkina Faso and now the FAO Representative in Senegal, was one of the architects of the Special Programme for Food Security.

"I was in the bush for four years in Burkina Faso; we did some nice projects but they didn't last," said Mr Tapsoba, who worked in the field as a young agricultural economist. "The Special Programme idea is to give the poor something at their economic level so they can keep it going."

In Burkina Faso, the treadle pumps are now produced and sold by local metal working shops. They receive no subsidy.

One of the shops, in the national capital of Ouagadougou, has sold over 200 pumps in the past year. The Atelier de Menuiserie Métallique Ouedraogo Seraphin buzzes with activity during a searing hot day in October as welders and painters work on everything from carts to shop shutters. A demonstration treadle pump is set up on the street in front of the workshop, and a salesman is more than happy to show customers how it works, sending water gushing through the plastic pipes.

"We've hired two extra full-time workers to make the pumps," said Souleyman Tapsoba, workshop foreman, as he shows a visitor a registry of pump buyers. They come from communities as far away as 600 kilometres. "I think we're going to sell more and more of them."

 25 October 2001

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