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$100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability

Wed, 02/10/2010 - 8:56am
Curious Cat Science and Engineering Blog

According to the United Nations, more than 40 percent of Africans live in poverty, subsisting on less than US$1 a day. As co-founder and CEO of the nonprofit social enterprise KickStart, Fisher develops and markets moneymaking tools such as low-cost, human-powered irrigation pumps that improve the lives of small-scale rural farmers – the majority of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa.

“These poor rural farmers have one asset: a small plot of land; and one basic skill: farming. The best business they can pursue is irrigated farming,” Fisher explained. “Once they employ irrigation, the farmers can grow and sell high-value crops, like fruits and vegetables. They can grow year-round and reap four or five harvests, instead of waiting for the rain to grow a staple crop once or twice a year.”

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The Super MoneyMaker Pump, can pull water from a source (such as a pond, lake, stream, or well) as deep as 30 feet below the pump. It can then pressurize the water and spray it continuously to a height over 40 feet above the pump. It can also push water through a hosepipe for as far as 1,000 feet on flat ground, and it has the ability to irrigate as much as two acres of land. It retails for about US$100, and its users are earning an average of US$1,000 profit per year.

More recently, Fisher and his KickStart team invented the MoneyMaker Hip Pump, which is more affordable than the Super MoneyMaker Pump to lower barriers of entry to commercial irrigation. Unlike a treadle pump, its unique pivoted design allows the operator to pump water using his or her arms, legs, and body weight in an easy-to-use rocking motion. More than 4,300 farmers in Kenya, Tanzania, and Mali are already using this pump. The Hip Pump retails for about US$35; it can be used to irrigate over an acre of land, and its users are earning an average annual profit of US$650.

“The MoneyMaker pumps Martin designed are inspirational on many levels,” said award nominator David M. Kelley, IDEO chairman and founder of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University. “The inventions are remarkable in the huge impacts they have had on poverty and the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor farmers in Africa. They are an exceedingly simple solution to a very complex problem.”

At present, nearly 62,000 small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs in Kenya, Tanzania and Mali are running profitable businesses by using MoneyMaker pumps. On average, farmers double or triple their annual net household incomes. Current pump users generate total new revenues equivalent to 0.6 percent of Kenya’s GDP, and 0.25 percent of Tanzania’s GDP.

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