HIPPO in brief

HIPPO’s goal is to help turn low-lift pump irrigation into an affordable, sustainable solution for family farms along Sahelian Rivers in West and Central Africa. The HIPPO Foundation was established in 1997. HIPPO stands for High-efficiency Irrigation Pumps, Procurement & Organization.

Vision & mission
Our vision is one of vibrant, non-aid dependent smallholder irrigation sectors that take advantage of the available technico-commercial opportunities.
Our modest mission is to advise and assist any organization or enterprise that shares our vision. You may contact us here.

Vicious cycle of aid dependency
What goes wrong? Basically: (a) development organizations are all too willing to give away or heavily subsidize expensive pumping equipment: irrigation aid in arid Africa is sexy; and (b) poor farm families manage to pay for the running costs but fail to set aside funds for end-of-life pump replacement : the equipment is prohibitively expensive.

A technico-commercial solution
The solution is self-evident: equipment costs have to come down. Affordable, off-the-shelve technology with manageable reliability is available in most Asian countries. It is simply a question of selecting the right technology and inciting the private sector in West Africa to start importing it. But this is easier said than done.

Steps by the HIPPO Foundation
The HIPPO Foundation has: (a) made a thorough study of all available equipment and of the pumping conditions along the Niger and Senegal rivers; (b) developed a method for pump selection; (c) trained civil servants and private-sector engineers in Mali, Burkina Continue reading

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Complexity thinking for aid effectiveness

Here is a blog post I just made that may have some relevance to the HIPPO Foundation, too. Good reading and don’t hesitate to comment.


Is aid on the brink of a breakdown or a breakthrough?

Aid on the Edge of Chaos       In its 360 pages, Aid on the Edge of Chaos presents an overview of the troubled state of aid, provides an update of current complexity thinking, and showcases promising applications of complex adaptive systems to child malnutrition, economic growth, peace building, and combating desertification, from rural Vietnam to urban Kenya. The author, Ben Ramalingam, criticizes the aid system for ignoring complexity theory to its own detriment. The term edge of chaos refers to the location on the simple-complicated-complex-chaotic continuum, where complex systems become really adaptive and innovative, or developmental so to speak. The book launch took place in London on Nov. 6, 2013.

aid on the edge of chaos

Biases against complex systems thinking        In 1948, Warren Weaver was the first to outline the urgent need for complex systems thinking to address the many messy problems of…

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A generic rural innovation model [GRIM]

Or, how to take the wicked problems of the world´s rural poor more seriously

Aim blog    Over the past few days I have been doing some soul-searching about the meaning of this blog and where it is supposed to lead? Or, if that is impossible to determine: in which direction it should evolve?  A few ideas stood out with immediate clarity: (1) it should be about smallholder farming, especially in Africa. That’s because my own experience is mostly with African smallholders. Besides, there are quite a few of them, almost all of them poor; (2) it should be about value chains – local, regional, national, or international – because they are needed to drive change, hopefully for the better; and (3) it should involve systems thinking, because it is hard to see how else the two can be brought together for the benefit of both.

Value proposition   Your typical agricultural development project involves some kind of value proposition to the beneficiaries, i.c. the smallholders and their families. Given the desperate situation they are in, the farm families are often quite willing to give the proposition a try, even if there are doubts about its “value”. Besides, trial-and-error is a very common method in any society, even in centrally planned ones. But what is often ignored or overlooked in these development projects is the central importance of the value proposition. Read on ….

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Technology marketing according to Moon

In May 2001, we attended the preparatory workshop for establishing the SIMI Network (SDC, 2001) in Rüttihubelbad, near Bern, Switzerland. According to SIMI (Smallholder Irrigation Market Initiative): (1) smallholder irrigation technologies can make a difference for the poor; but this requires (2) making low-cost micro-irrigation technologies widely accessible through market creation. One of the many organizations represented was ApproTec, now KickStart. Nick Moon, co-founder of ApproTec and managing director of KickStart, made a strong case for taking marketing to the poor in rural Africa seriously in order to get the biggest possible “bang for the buck”.

Treadle pump

KickStart is a social enterprise that sells low-cost, human- or animal-powered equipment for smallholders in Africa. It has offices in Kenya, Tanzania, and Mali, and employs 235 people, most of them nationals. The range of equipment includes an oil press, animal-drawn farm equipment, a brick-making tool, but most of all human-powered irrigation pumps, especially treadle pumps. The original name of KickStart, ApproTec, indicates that it has its roots in the appropriate technology (AT) movement, which in turn was inspired by the alternative development vision of Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. Contrary to many earlier AT initiatives, KickStart is very successful and has sold (!) over 200,000 pumps across Africa. Following favourable impact evaluations with regard to smallholder children’s school attendance, the IKEA Foundation has provided €6.88 million for KickStart to expand big time into southern Africa. Good luck!

La condition rurale
Most Africans (still) live in rural areas and are very poor. The rural dwellers are “organized” in extended families. These families generate just enough food and money to enable the survival of their members.  Crop production is seasonal, like the rains, and so are other factors, such as labour demand and food prices. Most of these factors work against African farm families. It is relatively easy for development organizations to provide opportunities and improve the plight of the African smallholder or villager. Typically, this involves temporarily increasing the human, financial, or technical capital and creating some sort of demand. However, these boosts of the local economy are artificial and may even hurt local businesses by creating a “disabling environment” powered by subsidies.

The road to hell
… is paved with good intentions, which means that development initiatives [can] do bad things [i.e. fail] even though they intend the results to be good. With its “tough love” approach of selling the pumps instead of giving them away or subsidizing them, KickStart somehow reverses the saying. In a way, KickStart befriends both Fritz Schumacher and Adam Smith. The latter wrote that “by pursuing his own interest he [the enterprising individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.” (The wealth of nations, book 4, chapter 2). As a warning Smith even adds: “I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.” The foundational lesson, therefore, is for development organizations to take the narrow path by providing real opportunities instead of artificial ones. But that is not the end of aid!

Technology, value chain, & marketing
The success of KickStart has many causes, but three stand out. Succinctly formulated, successful technology marketing should make the best possible value proposition to purchasing smallholders by optimizing: (1) the technology; (2) the value chain; and (3) the marketing. Kickstart does so by developing and testing the prototypes in Africa, using design criteria for price, weight, and reliability to suit the “condition rurale”. The final products, though, are manufactured wherever prices are lower, industrial standards are upheld better, and quality is higher. In the case of KickStart this means that container loads of treadle pumps are manufactured in China and not in Africa or India. A good product must be promoted by good marketing and service. KickStart applies professional marketing using the media (especially radio) and demonstrations on agricultural fairs. In addition, its products have a 3-4 month payback period, come with a 1-year guarantee, and are supplied through a fine-meshed private-sector dealer network. KickStart also supplies to NGO’s in countries where it does not have a presence itself.

Last week we came across a recent interview with Nick. The interview was really well done, so we decided to analyse it for lessons that could be useful for smallholder irrigation technology marketing initiatives such as HIPPO’s. Hence this blog post. The original interview was published in Boiling Point, which is a journal for household energy in developing countries that mostly deals with stoves and solar energy. Issue 60 is dedicated to the theme of energy markets and enterprise development, which KickStart has been very successful at. Everybody should heed the lessons of KickStart that technology marketing to the poor is possible! However, without trying to downplay the success of KickStart, we know for sure that  70 W human-powered treadle pumps cannot replace properly designed 10 kW low-lift diesel pumps for irrigating 20 or 30-ha smallholder rice schemes in the Sahel, as recommended by the HIPPO Foundation. And finally, we have once written about treadle pumps in the paper Efficiency, cost, optimization and spread of spray irrigation in West Africa. And we have also written about the ten guiding principles for the marketing of affordable irrigation devices.

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Elements for a pilot proposal

Development and testing of basic business model for the promotion of affordable low-lift pumps in West Africa

In the Sahel zone of West Africa overly expensive and inefficient diesel pumps are widely employed for village irrigation along major rivers such as the Niger and the Senegal Rivers. Current problems involve high overall pumping costs (fuel, maintenance, interest, and depreciation). This means a high proportion of the harvest has to be sold, which is usually not as easy as it seems, not in the least because the farm household may not yet have secured its own livelihood needs.

Pumping costs are high because equipment design and selection are below-optimal and procurement costs are high. The question is how to improve the efficiency of pump marketing in West Africa in such a way that pump irrigation turns into an affordable, sustainable solution for poor farmers along Sahelian Rivers.

Wuxi 6HBC-35

Wuxi 6HBC-35

Before these or similar pumps can be brought on the West African market, a number of questions will have to be clarified, either within the area of a pilot marketing project or for West Africa as a whole:

• What are the potential target groups, e.g. NGO’s, pump vendors, farmer groups, unions or federations, government organizations. Continue reading

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Long time, no see!

HIPPO documents uploaded
HIPPO Perspectives at WordPress is the online successor of the HIPPO Foundation, which aimed to solve the problem of costly low-lift irrigation along Sahelian rivers in West and Central Africa. Over the years we produced a range of documents that more or less trace the foundation’s 15-year odyssey. Most of these documents have been online on our www.hipponet.nl website for almost a decade. To save money, we closed the hipponet website and decided to shift the documents to our free Scribd collection (see Blogroll to the right). Today we expanded the range of documents to include Economical low-lift pumps for village irrigation along the Niger River, which was written in the winter of 1993-1994 and which could be regarded as our “letter of credence”. Full references to the HIPPO Foundation´s dozen or so main documents, including training material and case studies, are now available (and downloadable in your own reference manager!!!) at Mendeley.

Columbia Water Center
We also included Périmètre de Garangassou: avant projet détaillé : mémoire explicatif, which is a formal description of the irrigation design of a village irrigation scheme, following the procedures used by the Malian government. In our UNCDF and UNICEF irrigation Continue reading

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