Category: RPI – Rural Prosperity Initiative -

3 May 2010 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Poverty Alleviation Wrong?

A Post from IDE CEO, Al Doerksen…

What’s wrong with poverty alleviation? Well, nothing really, since there are some one billion or more people below someone’s definition of poverty. Without a doubt, poverty is repugnant and abhorrent, just like starvation and hunger is. It invokes a visceral reaction. The trouble with “poverty alleviation talk” is that it sees the world as 1 billion problem cases, and it is our task to (rid ourselves of the associated shame and guilt of this by setting out to) resolutely solve these billion problems. But it is curious that the beauty industry (probably larger than the aid industry) does not go around promoting programs of “ugliness alleviation.” Surely there must be a billion or more of such to be found too! No, the beauty industry responds to their clients’ aspirations of who they would like to be! The beauty industry does not focus (its promotional efforts) on the deficiencies of their clients but rather appeals to their dreams (I have no view on whether these dreams are legitimate or not). Likewise, IDE’s major program was aptly named “Rural Prosperity Initiative,” not “Rural Poverty Initiative.” We did so because we wanted to work on the “hope” side of our clients’ livelihoods, not the problem case orientation. This is more than nuances or mere words. If you are a poor person and I come to you to alleviate your condition, I have immediately turned that relationship into a somewhat paternalistic one. On the other hand, if you are a poor person, and I come to you to offer an opportunity—a partnership which will chase your aspirations for a better life—that is a fundamentally different approach. So we would rather talk about creating (modest opportunities for) prosperity than poverty….and it is so much more gratifying for all concerned, too.

— Al Doerksen, CEO of IDE

26 January 2010 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

IDE + Gates: 100K+ Served

Check out Dana Goldstein’s interview with Bill Gates over at The Daily Beast. The discussion touches on a number of topics of interest, including  Haiti, companies that are setting a good example in the bonus era, government’s role in meeting social needs, what works in public schools—and a revolutionary “scuba rice” that can help fight poverty. Of course, we’re also extremely pleased that he mentions our affordable irrigation technology work when asked about innovations he’s most excited about! Here’s what he had to say about IDE and the Gates Foundation’s approach to agricultural development:

…Another technology that is meeting with great success is a simple, low-cost treadle pump that enables farmers with limited water supplies to irrigate their crops, utilizing every drop of water effectively. Our grant to International Development Enterprises has allowed more than 100,000 farmers in India to benefit from this technology.

Innovations that are guided by smallholder farmers, adapted to local circumstances, and sustainable for the economy and environment will be necessary to ensure food security in the future. But technology is only one part of the puzzle. Small farmers also need training and resources to grow these enhanced seeds, and access to stable markets that offer them a fair price for their crops. That’s why we invest in each of these areas with our grant-making, to fund improvements across the agricultural value chain.

Our thoughts exactly. What do you think?

21 November 2009 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Dispatch from Zambia

The Sakala children with their harvest

Zambia’s rainy season began last week. Maize, tomatoes, and watermelon are being harvested now from Lusaka north to Copperbelt province where IDE trains several farmer groups in best agronomic practices. Tomato prices are down this month, but watermelon are now fetching high prices at market. A couple photos here show some harvest from the Sakala family farm on 20 November 09 outside Kabwe in Central Province. The Sakalas have wisely hedged, planting both tomatoes and watermelon, and Mr. Sakala has an additional field of tomatoes which are timed to harvest in December when tomato demand will be much higher.

Bennett of IDE Zambia helps Harrison Sakala load produce to take to market.

1 October 2009 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

IDE Wins 2009 Chicken Award

It is indeed an honor to be recognized by large, award-granting organizations, but we at IDE believe some of the humblest awards can be the most meaningful.

A group of Zambian smallholder farmers recently presented IDE CEO Al Doerksen with a live chicken and a cabbage while on a visit to their community—Twikatane, Ndola District in the Copperbelt Province of Zambia.

IDE CEO Al Doerksen with his prize

IDE CEO Al Doerksen with his prize

The award was made in the context of a visit to the area from a group of British Columbian IDE donors, and was an expression of respect and appreciation for the support received from them.

42 Twikatane farmers have each purchased the IDE developed, Zambian made “Mosi-o-Tunya” brand treadle pump which just hit dealers earlier last month. These pumps, along with training in improved farm methods and links to output produce markets, have enabled the farmers to realize increases in their annual income ranging from $200 to $800 per household.

“This was one of the most moving awards I have ever received,” said Doerksen. “The live chicken was equivalent to several days’ income for the group, and reinforced the fact that we are not just selling pumps—we are creating income opportunities which can allow for additional on-farm investment, send children to school, and provide for three meals a day.”

The visiting group was accompanied by IDE Zambia Country Director Keith Henderson, Director of Operations Ken Chelemu, and Aggie Chama, Team Leader for the RPI Copperbelt project. All were impressed and moved by the warm, ululating welcomes they received in spite of the deep levels of poverty that exist in rural Zambia.

When asked what he would do with the chicken, Doerksen said he would be taking it to Denver to let it range freely throughout IDE’s head office. International flights and border crossing formalities may have frustrated his plan, however.

17 August 2009 | Posted By: Ilana Martin


An IDE treadle pump in use in Myanmar

An IDE treadle pump in use in Myanmar

Voice of America reported on IDE’s success promoting the treadle pump in a recent development report.  Karen Leggett’s story “The Importance of a Simple Water Pump,” written in simplified English for audiences less familiar with the language, was broadcast August 16. You can read a transcript or listen to the story here.

8 July 2009 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Open-Source Innovation

Over at Fast Company, Alissa Walker blogs about IDEO’s Human Centered Design Toolkit, with a history of the project and some good real-world examples of its use. IDE was one of three organizations chosen by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to collaborate with IDEO to develop the toolkit.

“Human-centered design has always been IDEO’s approach to creating innovation,” says HCD Toolkit project lead Tatyana Mamut. But it was the Gates Foundation’s work in developing nations where IDEO saw an opportunity to apply their three core values for sustainable design: human desirability, technical feasibility and technical viability. “What we’ve done with this toolkit is taken the basic structure of that methodology and turned it into a process that makes it applicable to the developing world.”

Read article at

26 June 2009 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Farmers' Needs at the Center of Design

“Learning the limits of your expertise—and challenging your own assumptions—can be the beginning of a whole new level of learning. For IDE, learning about the details of poor farmers’ daily lives—for example, the unexpected importance of gender roles in appropriate design—was critical to helping the organization develop technology that would meet farmers’ needs.”

–What We’re Learning, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

At IDE, we often talk about the necessity of listening to our customers–small-plot farmers in developing countries–in order to develop income generating products which are useful and affordable. As part of our Rural Prosperity Initiative, we collaborated with the design firm IDEO (no relation) to develop the Human Centered Design Toolkit, a set of tools that can be used by organizations to better listen and respond to farmers and translate their experience and expertise into new design solutions.

Read more about it at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s website.

Download the Human Centered Design toolkit at IDEO’s website.

18 February 2009 | Posted By: Ilana Martin

Appropriate Technology Update

An essential component of IDE’s Rural Prosperity Initiative (RPI)  is design and development of several low cost technologies which have the potential to dramatically improve the incomes of poor rural households. Here are some updates of work in progress at our Technology Development Facility in Ethiopia from the end of the project’s second year:

Treadle pumps

Work continues in the development of a lightweight, low cost pump for use in Africa. Twenty test units were recently distributed to farmers in Zambia for field testing, and a systematic review of pump components is underway to select the best features for cost and performance to incorporate into a new design.

Rope pumps

IDE’s standard model of hand-cranked pump has been redesigned, resulting in very satisfactory performance. We are also continuing development of a pedal-driven model. The results so far are very promising, and prototype testing will be complete early this year.

Solar powered pumps

We have two solar powered steam engine pumps running successfully in the laboratory that are now ready for testing under field conditions. We’re working on modifications which will further reduce the cost and achieve higher overall solar input-to-water delivery efficiency.

Wind powered pumps

A study of available designs did not identify any off-the-shelf windmill designs for small plot irrigation, but several design options could potentially modified for irrigation pumping. A prototype windmill-driven pump will be tested in Ethiopia in early 2009.

Water storage

We recently began trial production of 3,000 200-liter hanging header bags to feed drip irrigation systems, and are currently testing them for durability. Later this year, we will begin testing them on farms and getting farmer feedback. A 10,000 liter water storage bag made of high density polyethylene material costing $125 has been successfully tested. In Myanmar, bamboo-supported plastic tanks are being tested on more than 150 small farms. In the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, protoype versions of these tanks proved essential to relief efforts.

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