Editor’s note: International Development Enterprises (iDE), founded in 1981 by Paul Polak, pioneered the commercial introduction of the foot-operated treadle pump to poor farmers in the Global South. In the 1980s and 90s, iDE sold 1.5 million pumps — about half the total that are now in operation on small farms across the globe. This article tells the story of one farmer and the enormous boost the treadle pump brought to his family’s income. 

This is the seventh and final case study from the files of iDE Ethiopia which we’re posting here to spotlight the human reality that motivates our work and gives it meaning. The people featured in these vignettes are the true heroes in the fight against global poverty. 

Jemal Buli, 60, is a smallholder farmer living with his two wives and ten children (six girls and four boys) in Ashoka kebele (neighborhood) of Arsi Negelle woreda (district). Prior to working with iDE, most of his livelihood was based on subsistence farming. He utilized a 0.125-hectare (less than one-third acre) plot of land in his backyard and another, separate one-hectare, rain-fed plot.

In March 2009, Jemal purchased a treadle pump for his backyard plot with the support of iDE field staff. Within one growing season, this pump directly contributed to additional income of Birr 6,500 ($337) from increased production of cabbage, beet root, and potato in his small home garden. Jemal’s cost of production was only Birr 60 ($3.11) for seeds. 

Here, then, is another strong example of how the addition of manual irrigation technologies can turn small upfront vegetable seed costs into large seasonal profits. With his pump, Jemal realized a net income of Birr 6,440 ($334) during a single growing season.

Using the extra income, Jemal’s family purchased two oxen for Birr 350 ($18) and covered all the construction costs for  a new grass-roof house with bricks. The family has also been able to afford a proper and balanced diet, educational materials, and medical costs for the children. Jemal has gained confidence and has a plan to expand his irrigation practices with a motorized pump in the future.

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