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4. Status and potential of water-lifting technologies in West Africa


The need and scope for water-lifting technologies, of the nature and scale discussed in this report, is described for northern Nigeria, Niger and Ghana, in Annexes D, E and F respectively. Information about other West African countries can be found in Gadelle 2001, which is reproduced for convenient reference as Annex G to this report, and in Table 1 of van't Hof 2001a, reproduced as Annex I.

In Nigeria, mainly the northern states as described in Annex D, farming of fadamas (lowlying and generally flat flood plains, often with fairly shallow groundwater) is an important part of the economy and especially important for relatively resource-poor people. Relevant farm sizes are as small as 0.5 to 1 ha in the more densely populated areas, up to 2.5 ha elsewhere, and even these smallholdings are often fragmented into several separate plots, with complex inheritance and land tenure arrangements (Annex D). The potential area in the ‘inland swamps' is estimated to exceed 150 000 ha in the northern states alone (ibid.). Such areas have, to a considerable extent, been developed by a succession of World Bank financed projects (ibid.), though large areas have either not yet been developed or are not used despite being included in earlier plans or projects. Private initiative is now the main driving force for development and ongoing use, and often involves small water-lifting devices, mostly engine-driven. About 50 000 pumpsets had been distributed by 1999, though considerable numbers from aid projects were still in storage (ibid. Annex D and Table D-4 therein). Treadle pumps were introduced in about 1993, but have not been very widely used, partly because some farmers had already started using motorized pumps (often subsidized and often not well matched to situations and applications) and were not keen to take what felt like a backward step to human-powered devices.

The situation in Niger is described in Annex E. Since the early 1990s, small-scale irrigation has been promoted by a project named le Projet de Promotion de l'Irrigation Privée (PPIP), sometimes called in English Project for Promotion of Private Irrigation, (PPPI). This operates largely through two organizations both called ANPIP (see list of Abbreviations), and through the Composante Irrigation Mécanisée (CIM). A number of tests have been made, and valuable reports have been cited in Annex H (EWW-ANPIP, 2001) and (Abric et al., 2000). As part of the promotion of low-cost irrigation by PPIP and the IFAD-supported project PSN-FIDA (or in English IFAD-NSP, Niger Special Programme), small water-lifting devices have been introduced, and considerable numbers are brought across the border from northern Nigeria by private enterprise. Several different makes of motorized pumpsets are available, but users and dealers do not appear to be well informed about how to choose the most appropriate for a particular application. Pumpsets are sometimes purchased by groups of farmers, as usual this only works well when the groups are spontaneous rather than imposed by external agencies or projects (Annex E). Purchase price has been a partial deterrent to the use of motorized pumpsets, but this has been eased recently by a government decision to reduce the tax on such equipment (ibid.). It is notable that most motorized pumpsets operate far below their rated, or even their full-throttle power output, with all the consequences discussed above (ibid.). Maintenance and repair are weak, despite the fact that spare parts are often obtained quite easily across the border from Nigeria (ibid.). Credit arrangements are seen as crucial, especially for resource-poor people starting out in small-scale irrigation and lacking capital or collateral assets: present credit arrangements for such people are not considered satisfactory (ibid.).

The situation in other French speaking countries of West Africa is described in Gadelle (2001), reproduced here as Annex G. There is a long history of innovation and introduction of various water-lifting technologies, though many of them, especially those powered by animals, do not seem to have been taken up on any significant scale (Berney, 2001). More recently, IPTRID has been supporting a research programme to evaluate the potential of shallow aquifers and to optimize the equipment for small-scale irrigation. This IPTRID initiative is linked to the regional cooperation initiative ARID. Much of the work is carried out by NGOs. In addition to its work for ANPIP in Niger (described in Annex H), the NGO Enterprise Works Worldwide (EWW) has an operation in Burkina Faso (EWBF, 2001). Some training work, including training in pump selection, is being done by the Dutch NGO HIPPO Foundation.[3] Developments in Burkina Faso also include the use of treadle pumps supplying piped small-scale irrigation systems (Keïta, 2001). In Mali, there is considerable use of motorized pumpsets, often rented or leased (Arby, 2001).

In Ghana, as described in Annex F, small-scale irrigation is seen as the third of three irrigation sub-sectors, beside formal schemes (typically Government-initiated, growing food crops) and informal medium-sized schemes (typically private, lifting water with large diesel pumpsets to grow export crops). Even the formal schemes are not large by world standards, mostly less than 700 ha (Annex F). The small-scale schemes operate mainly along rivers, streams, and ponds, or using wells and tubewells; their usual objective is to first meet food security at the household level, and only then possibly sell off surpluses. Water-lifting devices used by this group range from the traditional calabash and gourd or bucket and rope systems to small motorized pumps, including in recent years small numbers of treadle pumps. Because of the limited static lift of these water-lifting devices, production is centred on sites where the water table is high or the water source is within limits of suction. The recorded area is about 2 250 ha, but not all such irrigation is recorded (ibid. and in Table F-7). Motorized pumpsets are mostly gasoline-fuelled and have Japanese or Indian origin, and they often come overland from Nigeria (ibid.). Again, credit is seen as a major constraint to the uptake of water-lifting technology (ibid.). As in many other places, motorized pumpsets were introduced before the human-powered, and there is a reluctance to change to the latter even though they are often more appropriate to the small farm sizes (many farmers have 0.1 to 0.4 ha).

Small-scale irrigation in peri-urban areas is important in several countries, and in Ghana it has been studied around the city of Kumasi, with comparative studies around Nairobi in Kenya.[4] Water-lifting and water distribution are often combined, and both hand-carrying and motorized pumpsets (probably often very mismatched to their applications) are widely used. Water sources are often shallow groundwater, urban wastewater, and small streams (the latter two being barely distinguishable in some situations). Peri-urban irrigation, because of the relatively good markets for its products, represents a considerable potential market for well-matched small water-lifting devices.


In Nigeria there is judged to be a demand for more treadle pumps, especially in places where the motorized have not become well known (Annex D). There is certainly a demand for more motorized pumpsets. In Niger, there is a demand for both types, made evident by the importation of devices from Nigeria under private initiative. In Ghana the scale is smaller, but in all three countries there is evidently a considerable demand for small water-lifting devices in general, and a corresponding potential for improvements to rural livelihoods by satisfying this demand. In the rest of Francophone West Africa, there is interest in many of the technologies discussed above (Gadelle, 2001).

The potential area amenable to irrigation from shallow aquifers is estimated to extend to several hundred thousand hectares in West Africa as a whole (Annex F and Annex G). In addition to their being used for irrigation throughout a crop's growth period, small pumps can be beneficial to get a timely start on crops that will later be watered by seasonal flooding, or for supplementary irrigation when rains fail (called irrigation d'appoint in French-speaking countries). In such cases the pumps are not used for many hours per year and operating costs per volume of water lifted are less important than initial cost.[5]

Probably the single most important need, especially with regard to resource-poor people, is for a progression of technologies with manageable steps. If a farm family has half a hectare of land with groundwater at 2 m, in two separate plots, and neither the capital or access to affordable credit, it is of little help to offer, at US$400, a 4 horsepower (hp) (3 kW) motorized pumpset capable of lifting water 10 m and irrigating 1.5 ha. What this family needs is a range of affordable human-powered pumpsets, information and help in choosing the most appropriate, and perhaps a subsidy or assisted credit to overcome the initial financial hurdle. If other conditions are favourable (especially markets), such a family would then be able to earn a surplus, pay off the loan, accumulate some capital, and after a few years afford larger or several human-powered devices, and eventually more advanced and labour-saving water-lifting and irrigation equipment. The latter could include a motorized pumpset, especially if there was one well matched to their applications (for instance one of rated power less than 1 kW so that it would not be operating at a small fraction of full load). Both the financial requirement and the technical change at each step of this sequence must be manageable with as little outside help as possible. Large financial subsidies or borrowings distort the market and incentives, often leading to inappropriate technical choices, while the need for outside technical help may itself make a certain technology unattainable or unreliable.

An obvious alternative to the use of intermediate technology by resource-poor farmers, as a step towards larger equipment, is the concept of grouped demand. If a number of poor farmers become organized as a group they can, in principle, afford and use a much larger pumpset than any of them could aspire to as an individual. If the pumpset is mobile, they can take turns to carry it to their farms and use it. If it always works in one place, for instance at a common water source, the water needs to be conveyed to different farmers' fields at different times. In either case, there are technical difficulties, which can be overcome. What is more difficult is the social-institutional side of such arrangements, which require a high degree of trust and cooperation. Cooperative undertakings by farmers only work well if they trust each other and everyone has an interest in the success of the venture. Cooperative arrangements imposed from outside, for instance by a government agency or an aid project, seldom have the necessary level of trust to keep going for long.[6] Arrangements that are spontaneously set up by farmers, because of a perceived advantage, are more promising. Policy-makers obviously cannot force the setting-up of spontaneous groupings, but they can encourage it by offering help and information, as well as appropriate hardware and the information to help people choose the right hardware.

Another method of grouping the demand is to lease or hire pumpsets, which keeps the advantage that the equipment is owned by one party with a strong interest in keeping it well maintained; this is discussed further in the next section.

It is evident, from the above analysis, that the potential water-lifting-device users need a range of appropriate, efficient and robust technologies to choose from, knowledge on which to base that choice, and the services of dealers who understand the matching of technology to applications and situations. The users need some training in maintenance and access to a network of local workshops, with adequate spare parts, where repairs can be undertaken.

As well as small-scale irrigation, water-lifting devices of the sizes discussed in this report are sometimes appropriate, and already in use, for community potable water supplies and for stock watering. The number of units involved is, however, relatively small in relation to the potential for irrigation, because the quantities of water involved are much smaller.

The investigations carried out for this study, presented in Annexes D to F, are not comprehensive for the region and do not permit an estimate to be made of the scope and demand for small water-lifting devices in West Africa. Northern Nigeria alone has already absorbed around 50 000 small pumpsets. The area of land potentially irrigated by pumped small-scale irrigation is estimated at hundreds of thousands of hectares. If that is correct, and if the average area covered by one device is about 1 ha (it may be less, if human-powered devices predominate), then one can expect a market of several hundred thousand devices. Peri-urban agriculture and horticulture, mentioned at the end of the previous section, represent a further demand.


For the whole West Africa region, motorized pumpsets are generally imported, either by aid projects or by commercial firms. The market is considered inefficient. The importation of motorized pumpsets into West Africa is analysed by Sjon van't Hof of the HIPPO Foundation, with special attention to the overall cost of water-lifting (van't Hof, 2001a), reproduced as Annex I to this report, also van't Hof (2001b). It is reported that some Asian equipment, especially heavy, old-fashioned but robust diesel pumpsets of Indian or Chinese origin, is many times cheaper in its home market than the equipment being offered for sale in West Africa. This applies especially to spare parts, but a new pumpset costing US$750 FOB[7] Bombay was sold (admittedly with accessories) for about US$4 000 in Mali.[8] To some extent, high prices are inevitable because of the distances and relatively small markets. Although there is considerable room for improvement if policy-makers are fully aware of the situation, and if pump buyers are well informed. Marketing is often inappropriately linked to the European market, which discourages the use of relatively heavy and old-fashioned Asian-made engines or pumpsets, even though these might be appropriate in West Africa. This could be overcome by forging more ‘South-South' links between West Africa dealers and Asian suppliers, and reducing unit transport costs by increasing the volume of imports. Suggestions may be found in Annex I.[9]

There are various ways of making and marketing treadle pumps, largely dominated by NGOs such as Enterprise Works (EW) and International Development Enterprises (IDE) (Kay and Brabben, 2000, page 3) and Gadelle (2001). Some people and organizations favour dispersed and decentralized manufacture in many small workshops, often with an NGO acting as facilitator and financier by helping to set up the workshops, effectively supplying them with credit and/or subsidy, providing quality control and sometimes final assembly, and marketing of the product. Other people favour fewer and larger manufacturing set-ups, where quality control is easier and commercial conditions are more normal. There are compromise solutions, for instance where the essential core components of treadle pumps, such as cylinders and valves, are made in large numbers by centralized workshops with modern quality control, but the simpler elements such as frames and treadles are made or assembled by many small and dispersed workshops.

It is often noted that the supplier-distributor-customer chain of relationships between pumpset makers and pumpset users (the supply chain) is weak or missing, so that the makers do not see customer satisfaction as a high priority. Some NGOs are seeking to remedy this, for instance by withdrawing gradually from the chain as the industry and market become established. These aspects are discussed on pages 3-5 of Kay and Brabben (2000).

In many places importers, dealers and users do not have a clear understanding of the matching of equipment to applications, and the necessary information is not usually available to them. Farmers and other users tend to favour certain brands over others, based on reputations gained or lost in circumstances that may be irrelevant to the choice at hand (as documented in Annex D and in Annex E).

For motorized pumpsets, as well as for treadle pumps, introduction of a new technology into a region has often been led by an aid project with a high degree of subsidy. There is no practical alternative to the use of subsidy in some form or other, given the resource-poor situation of large numbers of potential users, and the state of the market for both equipment and agricultural products. This situation might be mitigated by higher producer prices for agricultural products on the world market, following a reduction of subsidies in developed countries. However, this is unlikely to happen soon and is an altogether larger subject.

Experience has shown that subsidies need to be very carefully structured and applied. However well intentioned, an aid project that floods a region with water-lifting devices, at prices that are much less than their true economic cost will distort choices, especially if it imports only a limited range of devices, as has sometimes been the case. Subsidized and inappropriate motorized pumpsets, in parts of Nigeria and elsewhere, have made it difficult, subsequently, to introduce the technically and financially more appropriate treadle pumps for small farms with shallow groundwater. Subsidized devices often end up with users for whom they are inappropriate, and who cannot effectively operate and maintain them because of technical or financial limitations. This means that the durability and sustainability of the whole package is often poor. In addition, a few years after the end of such an aid project the residual impact may be very small.

Despite this, the South African experience is interesting although it is a different situation to that of West Africa. In earlier times, the government gave significant support to the introduction of motorized pumpsets, with disappointing results in terms of sustainability; nonetheless, now there is a move to introduce treadle pumps with minimal subsidy. A recent South African report said ‘the success of the introduction will be the sustainability of the pumps. The pumps should sell themselves, should not require external pressures on farmers to purchase them and should definitely not be subsidized or donated to farmers. ... Treadle pumps self-select the poor... There are many thousands of farmers who are still waiting for assistance and are currently carrying water. These farmers would see treadle pumps as a step between carrying water and using a motorized pump.' (Kedge 2001a).

In some circumstances hiring, leasing or hire purchase of equipment may have advantages; initiatives in Mali are described in Arby (2001). This can potentially have the effect of grouping demand. This enables the use of a larger and more efficient pumpset than any individual farmer could afford. However, the commercial sector demonstrates little enthusiasm regarding the setting-up of pump-leasing schemes. If at all, it tends to be an NGO activity. There may be scope for channelling credit to or through leasing schemes, which may be easier than channelling it to large numbers of individual farmers.[10]

To avoid some of the problems of straightforward subsidies to users, those in external development agencies, government or NGOs, who wish to promote appropriate technologies for water-lifting (and other irrigation equipment), sometimes choose to do so by catalysing the establishment of a chain of manufacturers, distributors or leasers and maintenance workshops, in which each actor responds to commercial incentives. The subsidy element may then lie in providing credit to some of these actors, or to the final users, or in taking responsibility for quality control and the protection of brand reputations, but always leaving adequate commercial incentives.[11] The relationship between credit arrangements and subsidies in this context is a complex and vital subject of which not enough is known.

If cleverly handled, credit policies may be a way of initiating the use of water-lifting devices by resource-poor people without incurring the choice-distorting disadvantages of crude subsidy schemes. A more valuable use of funds, though in effect a form of indirect subsidy, is to test the available equipment and provide clear and reliable information for people to make informed choices.

The uptake and usefulness of water-lifting technologies needs development of a wider technical context, such as water storage downstream of the pump for some applications, or efficient irrigation equipment. The market arrangements for both inputs and products of small-scale agriculture are crucial, as found in the fact-finding investigations for this study, and emphasized in the brainstorming session of October 2001. These complementary technical and marketing aspects are, however, outside the scope of the Programme, which focuses on water-lifting.

[3] Van't Hof (2001c)
[4] Further information can be obtained from Gez Cornish of HR Wallingford Ltd, UK ( who made a presentation at the October 2001 brainstorming session for this study.
[5] More information on the scope and need is available from HIPPO Foundation or or the October 2001 brainstorming session for this study.
[6] It has been reported that some farmers in Nigeria are unable to join a cooperative venture with certain neighbours because of past personal or family disputes.
[7] Free on board price.
[8] Details are in Arby & Van't Hof (2000).
[9] Information can be obtained from HIPPO Foundation:, or
[10] Again, the HIPPO Foundation has experience in this field: or
[11] The NGO IDE has long experience in these matters. For example, in Asia and Africa comparable problems are being tackled using similar remedies in Nepal (G. J. Bom, personal communication).

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