Livermore resident Jim Stunkel is back from Africa, and his mind is racing with the possibilities unfolding from some discarded Tri-Valley pool water pumps.
Those pumps have already changed the lives of more than 100 farmers and their families, but many more are hoping to get one. Assist International, the nonprofit behind this project, is struggling to keep up, said Stunkel.
In September, I learned from him about the water pump invented by Livermore resident Andy Pierce that can be powered by riding a bike. Now, Stunkel and Pierce are making connections, including the president of Ghana, John Mahama, that may lead to this pump becoming a big deal in Africa, where hunger affects the lives of millions of people.
Last year, we delivered 100 pumps to farmers," siad Stunkel. "This year, we hope to increase that to 2,600."
The pump is already being distributed throughout Uganda and Western Kenya, and Stunkel and Pierce were invited to demonstrate the invention at a farming expo in Ghana. In the demonstration, someone riding a bike powered the pump, pulling water from a holding tank at the bottom of a hole. The water was pumped up into a holding tank high in the air, which then overflowed and poured down into another holding tank at ground level.
Mahama was at this expo to give awards to the country's top farmers. The president of the country took time to see the pump demonstration, and he was impressed. He told some high-ranking cabinet members to look into investing in hundreds of pumps to help boost the country's agricultural output in remote, poor areas, said Stunkel. That's not bad, considering the invention started in Pierce's garage. It is also made possible by the generosity of the Tri-Valley Pool and Spa Association, which donates the pumps and has donated money several times to help with shipping costs.
Pierce, a plumber, had volunteered with Stunkel in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. The orphanage that he helped build in Haiti had no running water. There was plenty of rainwater if they could find a way to store it and pump it. But with a limited budget, they could not afford solar panels or a generator to run a pump.
When Pierce got back home he couldn't stop thinking about how such a small problem could have a huge impact on people's lives. He began tinkering in his garage and came up with a simple solution: Use old pool pumps with electrical motors that have failed but still have sound mechanical components. He found it was fairly simple to detach the spent electrical motor and power the mechanical part of the pump with a bike. This simple solution used an item that was being thrown away or scrapped in the developed world and turned it into a life-changing invention for the world's poor.
Stunkel had already encountered similar problems in aid trips to Africa, where sustenance farmers relied on rainwater and had no way to farm during dry months even though low-lying water holes and marshes lay nearby. Stunkel and Pierce worked together, using the connections of Assist International, to start pilot programs in Uganda to see how the pump would change lives in remote villages. They offered it to farmers under a microloan program and subsidized it with donations.
One of the first farmers who bought the pump was able to grow his crop yield by 300 percent because he can irrigate and grow crops outside of rain season. He now has been able to build a house and a storefront to sell his vegetables. It sounds simple, but much of the world's population survives on sustenance farming, and their only way of transporting water is using buckets.
Another way the pump could change the world is by combining it with a low-cost water filtration system being developed by an Oregon nonprofit. Pierce is working with that group to adapt the pump so it could move drinkable water from marshy areas into nearby villages.
"Complications from drinking poor-quality water is the world's number-one cause of death among kids younger than 5," said Stunkel. "This could be just as big as farming."
For now, though, Stunkel, Pierce and other Assist International volunteers are working feverishly just to keep up with demand from impoverished farmers. The main cost of the program is shipping pumps to Africa. It costs about $150 per pump to send, and donations are needed to subsidize that cost. But the farmers themselves help keep the program going through paying off their loans with their increased income from selling their crops. For more information, visit www.assistproject41.org.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.