The power of distribution: small-scale irrigation in Zimbabwe

MercyCorps¬†works to build secure, productive, and just communities in some of the world’s toughest places like Somalia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, and Haiti. They recently shared a success story about small-scale irrigation in Zimbabwe that’s really a story about distribution.

A MercyCorps irrigation project in a district in Zimbabwe added $2.5 million dollars to the local economy over a three-year period. In a place where the average annual household income is around $500 per year, that’s a lot of money. Extra income can go to expanding family businesses, sending children to school, or accessing healthcare to further increase productivity and well-being.

Irrigation can be an efficient point of leverage in community development. Many of the world’s poor are small-scale farmers. Better irrigation can increase their crop yields, which in turn reduces hunger and poverty. Irrigation can be supplied by government programs, a community pooled resource, or by individual farmers.

MercyCorps grew the local economy by focusing not on charity, but on distribution. Starting in November 2009, they helped establish a supply chain for treadle pumps, a $200 device that can lift water vertically out of a 50-foot-deep well using just foot power. They encouraged competition among various suppliers, to keep prices affordable, and established a microfinance program to help facilitate purchase of pumps.

As stated in the video above, a $200 treadle pump can allow a family to triple their monthly income from cash crops, from roughly $17 to $50 a month. With the extra money, they can afford to send the eight kids they care for to school. And when a $200 investment generates an extra $33 a month in income, the ROI easily pencils out for microfinance.

(h/t to Next Billion for this story)

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