Treadle pumps transform farms, lives

A recent National Geographic story notes the water-lifting device called a treadle pump as one of most transformative technologies ever developed. The inexpensive treadle pump looks and works like a Stairmaster exercise machine, with the operator pedaling up and down on two poles (called treadles) that activate a cylinder that suctions water up from a well.

The simple pump has changed the lives of farmers in Bangladesh. There such a pump system costs $35, and can pull up enough water to sustain half an acre during the dry season. It's a significant thing: The pump and that water help the families grow food for themselves -- as well as some higher-value crops to sell at the market, providing the families with income to help pull them out of poverty.

Now Denver-based International Development Enterprises (IDE) developed a successful marketing and promotion campaign to sell treadle pumps to Bangladeshi farmers. The company's approach was to work locally to develop a full supply chain – manufacturing, sales, installation and repair – so that the treadle-pump industry could be self-sustaining.

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