Water is precious in many parts of Africa. It is scarce and difficult to obtain. Adama Sawadogo, a farmer in northern Burkina Faso, will tell you so. In his village of Goinré, farm hands toil under a scorching sun, carrying water to the fields in large tin watering cans, one by one, day after day.

Irrigating the fields is not easy; the process can be backbreaking. Small-scale farmers, mostly women, spend three to four hours a day hauling water that may be as far as one kilometre away. Everyone hopes for a heavy rain that would ease this work.

In Africa in general only seven percent of the land is irrigated. In West Africa it is only one percent. More water would help produce more food to feed families and children, many of whom are chronically undernourished. More food would bring more money; the extra food could be sold in the market. More money would pay for children's school fees, health care, more tools and seeds for the farm.

Less than two percent of the water available in sub-Saharan Africa is drawn from the ground. More could be used - if people had the correct tools to extract it.

FAO's Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) is helping farmers like Adama Sawadogo, providing them with inexpensive treadle pumps, which, in some cases, have enabled them to cut down the time spent irrigating their farms by half. The programme also teaches metalworkers how to make the pumps, which cost from US$50 to US$120.

Using the pumps, farmers cut the amount of time and increase their income. Adama Sawadogo, the farmer from Goinré, paid US$65 for his pump, money which he says he recovered "within the first season, plus enough profit to pay for the next season's inputs."

The treadle pump programme provided farmers with the first demonstration pumps, and then trained five metal workshops around the country to manufacture and sell them commercially. Thus, farmers are not the only ones to benefit from the use of the pumps. The local economy gets a boost too. At metal workshop Atelier de Menuiserie Métallique in Ouagadougou, welders and painters are producing the pumps at a furious rate. The workshop sold 200 pumps in the past year. To keep up with demand, the workshop hired two extra full time workers to make pumps.

A salesman hauls the pump out on the street for a demonstration of the product in action, pumping on the treadles to send water gushing through the plastic pipes. Souleyman Tapsoba, a workshop foreman, proudly displayed a registry of pump buyers: "They come from communities as far away as 600 kilometres. I think we are going to sell more and more of them."