The Iconic Treadle Pump

If IDE employees were forced, by policy, to wear a tattoo of IDE’s most successful technology, it would be a treadle pump.  No, we didn’t invent it.  It was introduced to us by Gunnar Barnes working for LWS in northern Bangladesh; more than a few people have claimed subsequently to be the inventors but at best, they have been people who have re-developed or refined or re-adapted the pump to a local circumstance. 

The icon

There are in fact lots of versions.  The  materials used for the pump and supports are some combination of metal and wood, often bamboo, sometimes plastic, and piston cups which might be leather, plastic or rubber.  We have even seen cement versions designed for installations where the soil is saline and corrosive.  But they all do the same thing; they lift irrigation water from depths up to 7 meters.

We estimate that around 2 million households in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa have purchased and used this handy little suction pump in the past 25 to 30 years.  IDE didn’t sell them all.  That wasn’t the point.  Our goal was to get them sold and working for farmers.  So we set up supply chains and encouraged the rise of competition and blessed the birth of new marketing organizations.

The magic of irrigation is that it boosts agriculturally productivity through better nourished crops, and through additional crops in dry seasons of the year.  The magic of this productivity means additional food for household consumption or for market distribution or both.  In India these days, many users are seeing their net income increase by over $600 annually!  The consequence of this is options:  the option to eat better and/or improve housing and/or educate children and/or acquire better health care and/or purchase additional farm assets.

Shakuntala, an iconic customer

Let’s be a little conservative.  Let’s assume that the annual income boost is only $300 per year, and that the pumps are used for a minimum of 3 years.  Do the math yourself to get the astonishing number of $1.8 billion in household income created over the years.  Not bad for a little machine which costs less than one hundred dollars.  We have been promoting the generation of “water streams”; in fact the real results have been “income streams.”

Still, our customers remind us that treadle pumping is hard work.  Not as hard as manually lifting & carrying water, but still hard work.  Both men and women use these pumps, and so do their children and their parents.  They will do the work because of the benefit which results, but still they ask about whether their might be other options?  Solar photovoltaic?   Diesel?  Electrical?   Solar thermal?  We are looking for the answer to that because poverty and food insecurity need to be efficiently and effectively banished!  We will find these new technologies.


About Al Doerksen

I'm sort of a vocational tramp; my working career divides about evenly between non-profit and the business worlds. I have lived in Mexico, India, Germany and Canada, and now USA. I've had the good fortune to travel to 90 countries of which at least half are developing countries. The last 25 years of my "career" have involved significant (and enjoyable) international management challenges: travel industry, furniture manufacturing, food (aid) programming and ultraviolet water treatment among others. I'm now leading a development enterprise called IDE.
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2 Responses to The Iconic Treadle Pump

  1. Pingback: Blog

  2. Pingback: Pumps, the problem with poverty alleviation, and more « borrowing bones

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