Monday, August 09, 2010

Kick starting African farmers

From the Voice of America, the story of an American business that sells water pumps to African farmers. The water pumps sold from the business KickStart can help small farmers increase their yields and make more money.

A California social entrepreneur is fighting poverty in Africa. Through a program called KickStart, he sells, rather then gives, small pumps to poor farmers in an effort to encourage entrepreneurship.

This water pump -- called the Super Money Maker -- is designed to make a big difference in the lives of rural Africans.

Martin Fisher -- a co-founder of the non-profit KickStart -- demonstrates the technology on the rooftop of his San Francisco office. "It's cheap, it's extremely robust, it won't break down, it's very lightweight," he says, "You can carry it to the field."

KickStart is part of a growing trend in the development community towards social entrepreneurship. KickStart sells its pumps to poor rural farmers, with the promise that they can make money with them. For a small farmer, replacing a bucket with a pump can lead to cultivating a wider variety of crops and creating work for family and neighbors.

And in sub-Saharan Africa, where only four percent of the land is irrigated, buying a small pump can make a big difference. Fisher says his experiences in Africa years ago showed him many people value the things they pay for more than the things they're given.

"I went over to Africa as a socialist, and after about five or six years of hitting my head against the wall, became a small "c" capitalist," Fisher said.

In towns and cities in Kenya, KickStart has set up 450 shops that sell pumps --made inexpensively in China -- and has set up demonstration stations. The foot-operated pumps are sold for a hundred dollars --a lot of money for an African subsistence farmer.

At the University of California at Davis, Mark Bell teaches international agricultural development. He agrees with Fisher that the tradition of non profits in developed countries giving tools and equipment to poor people in third world countries -- is a poor model.

"If you go in and say, 'Here's a freebie,' then people are going to say, 'Sure, give it to me.' And when you leave, you know, who knows what happens to it. But if a farmer is given the opportunity to access and then makes a decision to buy, I think that's the real proof that this is something that's beneficial to them," Bell said.

Daniel Karanja saved for months to come up with the money for one hip pump. It worked, and now he says he would like more. "I want to add for myself another pump," she says, "Now this time I get the super money maker because I want now to cultivate a large piece of area, where I can grow more crops, commercial crops."

The development community is divided over whether non-profits should give away or sell technology and services as diverse as solar lighting, water filtration, healthcare and education. KickStart says the sale of its pumps has helped to move nearly half a million people out of poverty in Kenya, Tanzania, Mali and Burkina Faso.

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