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DM Project Story: From Open Wells to Rope Pumps

Elena Altieri's picture

BATTANPUN, Cambodia – Some 30 people gathered in late February 2008 to talk about their experience using a rope pump that was introduced to the village a few months earlier. Many stopped by on their way home from the fields, asked questions and considered the pump.

In this village two hours north from Cambodia’s capital, a population of about 300 does not have many options for clean, safe water. Open wells are often contaminated and many of the region’s tube wells contain high levels of arsenic

But Battanpun’s water situation has improved, since local NGO Ideas at Work (IaW) installed a rope pump on one of the village open wells. Since then, four pumps have been sold to groups of families.

“The rope pump is a flexible method for lifting water. It can be easily adapted for use on all wells with a diameter greater than 10 centimeters and a max depth of 50 meters, in rivers or ponds, as well as configurations for pedal, wind or motorized versions,” said Angelique Smit, project team leader. “The materials required to make the rope pumps are available locally, which makes them easy to maintain and solved the spare-part supply chain even before we started.”

Smit’s project, which won a Development Marketplace (DM) grant in 2006, is installing at least 400 rope pumps throughout Kandal province, which is home to more than 1 million inhabitants. At least 20,000 people – about 4,000 families – will benefit from the initial pumps, and the project has already expanded to Kampong Chniang province.

Rope pumps have been used in China for more than 1,000 years. During the 1980s, they were also introduced in Nicaragua. Recent evaluations of that project found that more than 95 percent of the pumps are still working after 10 years, thanks to its user-friendliness and low costs associated with maintenance.

“The pump is very easy to use and helps me a lot,” said Nov Sokhan, who in her 40s has been lifting heavy buckets of water for years. “In the past, I spent one thousand riels [about 25 cents] to buy a jar of water, which is not of good quality. In my family, I use a jar of water per day. Now I pay only USD10 per month and I will own the pump after paying all."

Smit’s project conducted extensive market research to find the best way to market and sell its rope pump. It found that Cambodians respond well to ambulatory salesmanship, so it has been marketing its pump by building a demonstration sites in each village and allowing residents to test it for three months. If they decide to purchase it, credit is available through a partnership with local micro finance institution PRASAC.

Some 18 months into the project, IaW’s partner, Resource Development International (RDI), performed a comprehensive water quality study that will be shared with the Cambodian government.

“The government’s Rural Development Ministry suggested recently that a pump registration process should start,” Smit said. “This would make our rope pump the fourth officially accepted water pump in Cambodia.”

When the project was first developed, the idea was for IaW to run the gamut of producing, marketing and selling the rope pumps. But as finalists for a DM grant, the group received technical assistance from the MIT Entrepreneurship Lab to strengthen its business model. As a result, IaW tightened its focus on building marketing and distribution channels and linking potential buyers to micro credit. The production of the pumps is now fully run by IaW’s local staff and is about to become a separate business entity.

Building relationships with the villages takes time, but the “tupperware”-type distribution channel – the informal presentation gatherings such as that in Battanpun – is proving to be a successful distribution model, Smit said, who hopes that her project’s distribution channel will extend to 100 villages within two years.

IaW’s long term vision is to become an outlet for complimentary “bottom of the pyramid” products such as lanterns and water purifiers made by local entrepreneurs.

“Addressing the gap between all kinds of appropriate technology products, such as our rope pump, and successfully reaching the rural areas with a goal to become self reliant entities is a commitment we like to be challenged with,” said Smit.


Contributed by Kristina Stefanova

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