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Press Release 01/04


Rome, 30 January - Food security in Africa could be boosted by an increased use of locally produced low-cost water pumps, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a new report published today. The report is entitled: "Treadle pumps for irrigation in Africa".

"The costs of buying, running and maintaining engine-driven irrigation pumps are too high for many small farmers in developing countries," said Tom Brabben of the International Programme for Technology and Research in Irrigation and Drainage, sponsored by FAO, the World Bank and other donors. "Treadle pumps are cheaper and easier to handle, they can contribute to higher food production and create employment and income if pumps are produced locally. For poor farmers this is a viable first step towards irrigated agriculture."

Currently, most irrigation equipment in sub-Saharan Africa is imported. In many cases it is prohibitively expensive and often inappropriate for use by small-scale farmers.

In sub-Saharan Africa, only four percent of arable land is irrigated, as compared to 24 percent in Northern Africa, 37 percent in Asia and 15 percent in Latin America. FAO estimates the number of chronically undernourished and hungry people in sub-Saharan Africa at 185.9 million people or 34 percent of the population.

Many African farmers are still using bucket-lifting technologies, which are slow, cumbersome and labour intensive to irrigate very small plots of land, FAO said. Water lifting rates are only between 0.5 and one cubic metre per hour. "Treadle pumps are far more efficient and user-friendly. They can be used in a comfortable way, the farmer stands on the treadles, pressing the pistons up and down, lifting up to five cubic metres per hour."

Treadle pumps are available in African countries, mainly introduced by non-governmental organizations, but could be further promoted, the report said. These pumps are used by small farmers with up to one hectare of land. "If we want to achieve 'more crop per drop' in Africa, small water pumps that fit into the social and economic environment, will have to play a bigger role," Brabben said.

Case studies from Kenya, Niger, Zambia and Zimbabwe show that by using treadle pumps farmers could increase irrigated land, reduce work time compared to bucket irrigation, improve crop quality, grow new crops and increase the number of cropping cycles.

In Zambia, FAO's Special Programme for Food Security, now operational in more than 60 countries, has contributed considerably to the use of small pumps. Around 200 treadle pumps have been installed on demonstration sites. This has contributed to a wider adoption of pumps in Zambia.

The economic benefits of small pumps have been significant for farmers. In Zambia, incomes have risen more than sixfold from US$125 achieved with bucket irrigation on 0.25 hectare of land to $850-1,700 using treadle pumps. In some cases cropping intensity could be extended to three crops per year. In Zimbabwe, treadle pumps are mostly used for irrigation of small vegetable gardens. As a result, family nutrition has improved in most areas.

Another advantage of treadle pumps is that they do not contribute to the depletion of valuable groundwater resources, according to the report. In general, these pumps can only reach shallow groundwater resources within six metres. "Only if a large number of farmers operate in the same area, the local watertable might drop."

"Small-scale irrigation is seen as one of the success stories in many countries in Africa, at a time when large-scale developments have failed to come up to expectations. It is usually developed privately by farmers in response to family and local market requirements, without the need for government interventions. This has been at the heart of its success," the report said.

A prerequisite for the successful use of treadle pumps is to produce them locally and sell them on a commercial basis. "This helps the local economy and manufacturers are likely to be more in touch with farmers," Brabben said.


The report can be found at:

For more information please contact: Erwin Northoff, Media Officer, tel.: 0039-06-5705 3195/3276 e-mail:

Media footage available.

Sound clip

Treadle pumps are not that new in the rural world but the benefits that a small farmer can get from them are not well known. In an interview with Liliane Kambirigi, FAO Radio Unit, Mr. Tom Brabben explains:

(duration: 2min52sec)

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