Our Pump Project

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Asia. Nearly 80 percent of its population lives in rural areas and works in the agricultural sector, as few other job opportunities exist. Decades of conflict, beginning in the 1970s and continuing until nearly 25 years later, have left Cambodia’s agricultural sector lagging behind those of neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. Agriculture in Cambodia is characterized by rice monoculture.  Soil is intensely degraded from constant overgrazing by cattle and yearly rice production with no crop rotation. Rice production cannot increase without substantial improvements to the soil. Widespread poverty has led to destructive and illegal logging in Cambodia’s rainforests.

Other major income-generating options—factory work, migrating to regions with more jobs and illegal logging of local rainforests—do not offer sustainable ways for farmers to pull themselves out of poverty.  Factory jobs are few, competition for the jobs in other regions is fierce, and logging will only last as long as rain forests still exist near the villages.  In addition, the lack of alternatives forces an alarmingly high number of women into the sex trade at an early age.

Yet, tremendous opportunity exists for Cambodian farmers to improve their lot. Cambodia currently imports over 95% of its vegetables from abroad; as a result, vegetable prices are high. With the right tools, Cambodian farmers can grow their own vegetables, sell them at good prices and reduce Cambodia’s reliance on imported vegetables, while  helping to minimize environmental destruction. Raising vegatables will also provide crop rotation to help nourish soil degraded by constant rice production.

To capitalize on these opportunities, BB2C’s mission is to combat rural poverty by selling irrigation pumps to farmers.

BB2C’s Work

BB2C sees all poor farmers in Cambodia as potential entrepreneurs. From the start, all farmers in the areas where we work have some critical assets:

  • Small plots of land
  • Farming skills
  • An abundance of time because they lack other work for much of the year
  • The water beneath their feet
Note the creative but primitive pump now used in Chhouk Kranhas.  Bicycle tire and pedals forms the pulley used to draw water.  Also notice the hand made trough to the right.

This pump in Chhouk Kranhas uses bicycle tires and pedals to form the pulley used to draw water. A hand-made trough sits to the right. However, though ingenious, this pump is not as effective as KickStart's Super MoneyMaker.

What the farmers don’t have is easy access to water, which BB2C believes is key to farmers’ ability to generate income and escape poverty. While the Cambodian villagers we work with have sources of water for farming, getting that water to their land is costly and onerous. Often villagers carry water to their fields in buckets.

KickStart’s Super MoneyMaker Pump

We searched exhaustively for a simple, low-cost micro-irrigation technology to help farmers irrigate more easily. We found what we were looking for in Africa—a pump developed by KickStart, a not-for-profit organization based in Kenya.  KickStart’s Super MoneyMaker pump has been tested for several years by two hundred thousand farmers in Africa and been proven to work for a variety of crops. It has helped countless African farmers move from subsistence farming to commercial agriculture, and we believed that it could do the same for Cambodian farmers.

In 2011, after two years of research, farmer surveys and pump testing in Cambodia, BB2C brought the simple and effective Super MoneyMaker pump to Cambodia for the first time. It is a human-powered two-cylinder treadle pump used to pump water from hand-dug wells, rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. Not requiring electricity or petroleum makes it appealing to farmers that do not have or cannot afford it. The pump represents a significant improvement over other pumps currently available in Cambodia. It is easily portable, designed to last for years, comes with a one-year manufacturer’s guarantee, and does not require any tools to repair.

We sell the pumps rather than give them away because farmers that invest in the pumps commit to making good use of them–lifting their families out of poverty in the process. Ninety- one pumps have been sold to date, exceeding our short-term expectations. While BB2C has encountered significant demand for increased sales, we are limited by supply, having to import foreign made pumps at high cost.

Most pumps have been sold in Kampong Speu with smaller quantities being sold in Kampong Chhnang and Takeo.  The pumps are compatible with existing water sources and a variety of crops grown in Cambodia, and easily meet the needs of small farmers with 1-2 acres of land.

Marketing The Pumps

Effective marketing is essential to BB2C’s mission. At $95, the Super MoneyMaker pump represents a very significant investment for Cambodian farmers—sometimes as much as a quarter of a family’s annual income, the farmers are hesitant to risk what little money they have. If a farmer buys a pump and it fails to increase the farmer’s harvests, that farmer’s family might go hungry for months. As a result, farmers are understandably risk-averse, and BB2C spends much time—and the majority of our resources—building awareness of and trust in the tools we offer. Often we must return to a village several times before farmers are willing to commit to buying a pump.

We market our pumps by demonstrating them at community meetings. Our staff works closely and respectfully with village leaders, demonstrating our pumps to them before engaging with other villagers.  Because we return time and time again to a village to ensure that the pumps work properly the farmers are beginning to trust us resulting in an increasing rate of sales.

The Cambodian team field team is working to expand our rural marketing campaign.  To identify regions where we can make the biggest impact, we work with land-use and poverty maps, GIS analysis, surveys with farmers, and plan closely with local village committees.  The team also partners with village leaders, local officials, and other NGOs in our marketing effort.

Left: Benjamin addresses a group of Bak Kheng villagers. Right: Village Elders of Svay Khleang.
Left: Ysa Benjamin addresses a group of Bak Kheng villagers. Right: Village Elders of Svay Khleang.

Measuring Our Impact

Project Impact and Project Sustainability
In 20112 we began to collect data on the effects of the Kickstart pumps in Cambodia to get a sense of the demand for and benefits of such tools. Here are some topline findings based on surveys conducted at least three months after the pump purchase.
Satisfaction with the pumps
When asked whether they were satisfied with the pump, nearly all farmers surveyed (97%) said they were. Among benefits, they cited saving money (47%), its ease of use (39%), saving time (27%) and maintenance (21%). It should be noted that 38% of those surveyed said that before the advent of the pumps, they used to carry water to the fields; 24% used engine-driven pumps; and 18% used both approaches. Almost all (91%) said the pump was better than carrying water or using an engine-driven pump. Perhaps that is not surprising, given that farmers who used to carry water to the field lugged a median number of 60 buckets a day.  Of those polled, 4 in 10 said that their engine-driven pumps broke down sometimes or often or were broken.
Heavy reliance on pumps
The pumps get a lot of use. Half of those surveyed report that they use the pumps 14 or more times per week. Nearly one-third (32%) uses them 7 times a week. They are used a median of 10.5 times per week.
Growing more crops
Those who purchased the Kickstart pumps were optimistic about its ability to help them grow more than before. More than half (53%) of those surveyed said the pump would help them grow more crops so they will have more to eat. And half of those polled said the pumps would help them grow more crops to sell. Just three months after the pump’s arrival, nearly 1 in 10 (9%) said they were already growing crops they had not grown before they got the pump. Six percent said they plan to grow crops in a season they didn’t farm in before.
High word-of-mouth advertising appeal
Based on our analysis, the pump has significant word-of-mouth advertising potential. Forty-one percent of those surveyed said they would recommend the pump to others.
The Pump Project So Far

BB2C began marketing pumps in October 2011.  To date, we have sold 100 pumps– far beyond our initial expectations.  Even with these sales to our risk averse farmers we know that, at $95, the imported KickStart pump is too costly for most farmers we serve. We immediately began  developing a less expensive Cambodian-made pump using local materials and employing Cambodians. We already have a functioning prototype and are working to lower its cost to $50.

a vision of renewal and recovery