Global Processing

Stepping pump a first step in helping world's poorest farmers

July 1, 2013

How do you bring 21st century technology to global regions that don’t yet have true capitalism? One further wrinkle — the technology you’re dealing with is for one of life’s biggest got-to-haves: water.

Xylem, a company whose very existence is premised on “providing innovative solutions to global water challenges,” says tackling the third-world sustainable-technology issue takes a combination of private, non-governmental organization (NGO), governmental and business partnerships.

About 1.5 billion farmers worldwide are “small holder,” i.e., those who farm their own food and cultivate about five acres of land. About 50% of the total workforce in India is involved in farming.

In March, Xylem introduced the Saajhi (Hindi for “companion”) treadle pump, which requires no electricity and is field serviceable, with a minimum number of removable parts and no tools required. Farmers operate the stepping pump with a dual foot pedal — a motion similar to climbing stairs — to generate a strong flow of water through a hose and spray nozzle. Its use should cut irrigation time, ease the farmer’s burden and make water application efficient.

But, due to a paucity of good ways to get the pump into the hands of the small farmers that need it most, the company can’t stop there. The Saajhi, therefore, is the first product in Xylem’s Essence of Life business model.

Xylem, with more than 12,500 employees worldwide, is headquartered in White Plains, N.Y., and had 2012 revenues of about $3.8 billion. The essence of life program addresses the need — in tackling the intractable problems of the world’s poorest — for sustainable business models.

“The developing world is littered with the rusted remains of equipment that over the long term couldn’t be maintained or sustained,” says Keith Teichmann, director of innovative networks, Xylem. “Two major problems are that farmers have no surplus income to invest and a distribution network may be lacking for sales and service.”

At a list price of about $200, Teichmann says Xylem is currently booking orders for the Saajhi from multiple customers for delivery starting in August. Its distribution model entails partnering with companies that sell agri-business necessities to small plot farmers, rather than traditional pump distributors.