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 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
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.
Measuring Our Impact
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.