How to Save a Village $Thousands$


A working windpump

What if you tried to help a poor village get water, and bankrupted it in the process?

It happens. And it’s not good.

And that’s why we visited one of Africa’s top windpump companies today here in Kenya. Because wind is free.

Consider this: Thousands of boreholes are drilled into the ground across Africa, every year, to find water. Some of those boreholes are drilled to get clean water for drinking, but many others are drilled to get water for irrigation — to grow food in drought areas and solve starvation.

Now, of course, once you hit water, everyone cheers.

But then you have the challenge of how to continually lift water out of the ground and pump it to all the crops. And that’s where you can bankrupt a village.

Many well-meaning organizations, after drilling a borehole, “give” a village an expensive diesel-powered pump for irrigation. But it’s a costly gift. That complex pump can actually bankrupt them in fuel and repairs.

The village starts off excited. They plant LOTS of crops in anticipation, requiring a big outlay of cash for seeds. Then they fire up their new diesel pump and begin watering their seeds. Plants start to grow. Green sprouts begin popping up all over the field. Everyone is happy.

Eventually, however, the money to buy more fuel gets tight. But they see all that food growing and can’t let it die, so they pinch their pennies and buy more fuel to pump more water to keep their plants alive, and they hope for a good harvest. Maybe they even borrow money to pay for the fuel, betting on a good crop in the end to be able to repay the loan and end up with some profit.

But that’s a bet many poor villages lose.

In fact one of our key villages here in Kenya — Gambella — had to abandon their prized farmland this season, because fuel costs for irrigation have gone just too high. Gambella was given a diesel-powered pump many years ago by a development agency. But that pump has almost sunk the village financially.

Here’s our plan: We want to model a sustainable way a poor village can pump irrigation water out of the ground, so we’re carefully calculating the sustainable costs of how do that.

And we’re looking at wind-powered pumps.

The initial cost of a wind-powered rig may be a bit higher (but not too much) compared to a diesel-powered pump. But after that, wind is free. And this area has LOTS of wind.

With the wind-pump approach, a village could perhaps split the purchase with a benevolent donor. Maybe the village would even borrow money for their half. But now, their cost of fuel is zero, and maintenance is next to nothing, and repayment of the loan is less than half of what they used to have to spend for diesel fuel and repairs.

And after each harvest, even mediocre ones, they still have a handsome profit.

Much better.

We want our first sustainable model to be Gambella.

Anyone want to help??

(Click here to buy Pangeo Coffee and help villages at the same time)

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Written by Jeff Power

Jeff is the founder of Pangeo Coffee. He's been dedicated to full-time humanitarian development with poor villages in Africa, Asia and the Middle East since 2007. Follow Jeff's travels and work on his personal blog:, and on twitter at @jeffpower.