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Technology & Innovation

Dams be Damned, Small-Scale Pumps Better for Rural Farmers

Throughout Africa and southern Asia, farmers are using pumps and other small-scale methods to irrigate their crops.

What’s the Latest Development?

Throughout the world, farmers are looking for reliable ways to water their crops. Despite the number of large, government run water projects involving dams and pulling water from rivers, many farmers throughout Africa and Asia are turning towards small-scale solutions such as individual water pumps. The pumps range in cost from about 100 to 200 dollars and are relatively easy to find locally and set-up. Other farmers in India are storing water in ponds from monsoon season to irrigate their land.

What’s the Big Idea?

The biggest problem with large scale irrigation solutions is efficiency. According to a report from 2000 “a quarter of dam-fed irrigation schemes watered less than 35 percent of the land intended, cost over-runs were almost universal, and a quarter of the irrigated fields were waterlogged or poisoned by salt. Not surprisingly, farmers have increasingly been making their own arrangements for water.” These small-scale ventures allow farmers to increase their crop production but not without some cost. Because these farmers are not experts in water conservation, many are pumping as much water as they can, which is dropping water tables to dangerously low levels. Colin Chartres, director of the International Water Management Institute, is still optimistic about the pumps. “Encouraging the local manufacture of pumps, and supporting local water entrepreneurs…should be coupled with an effort to map water reserves and prevent farmers from taking too much when supplies are tight.”

Photo Credit: Hagit Berkovich/


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