Irrigation simplified through treadle pumps

An affordable and eco-friendly water lifting solution for marginal farmers in seven states of India


States falling under the Indo – Gangetic belt, such as Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Assam, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh, have abundant water resources in the form of higher level of water table. However, smallholders face the challenge of lifting water from below the surface to irrigate their lands year-round. Use of traditional devices such as the tenda or drawing water from the open well is laborious. While affluent farmers can afford commercially available water lifting devices (WLD) such as diesel pumps, smallholders have little option but to cultivate their land during the monsoon. They are often forced to make ends meet by working as wage laborers for the rest of the year.

Within this context, IDEI initiated a project with the goal of enabling 172,000 smallholders in India to acquire and begin using low-cost water-lifting technologies. The project was executed between November 2007 and January 2012.

Water Lifting Devices (WLDs) such as Treadle Pump (TP) and its variants were made available under the name KB (Krishak Bandhu, meaning Farmer’s Friend) in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh


The project involved the following stakeholders:

a) Farmers: Small farmers played a major role in this programme.

b) Supply Chain Members: The IDEI team established a network of supply chain comprising of manufacturers, village level dealers, and village-based mechanics to support each step of the project. IDEI acted as a facilitator without any investments or profits from the process.

c) Academic and Research Institutions: IDEI has worked closely with Indian Institute of Technology (Delhi), ITT (US) for product development and with The Energy Research Institute (TERI) for conducting research studies. Agricultural universities- Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT ) and Pant Nagar University were the knowledge partners.

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Making the water available at the surface for irrigating the fields has been a major challenge faced by farmers. The cost of hiring a diesel pump is about USD 2 per hour. In addition to the high costs, since all farmers in a village engaged in irrigation at the same time, everybody needed the pump simultaneously. This resulted in delayed irrigation despite paying large amounts of money. To address this situation, IDEI adapted a foot operated irrigation device to develop the KB TP.

The KB TP is affordable equipment as its cost ranges from USD13-40 (different variants). Being manually operated it does not require the purchase or use of any fossil fuel. It is suited for one acre of land (typical land size of a smallholder farmer) to cultivate high-value crops such as vegetables. Moreover, it gives the farmers the freedom to paddle out water as and when required.

The KB TP are particularly useful for small land sizes as they throw out water with a lower force than diesel or electrical pumps and thus do not damage the topsoil in its vicinity. KB TPs significantly reduce water wastage also. When compared with a diesel pump which requires two people to lift it, the KB TP is easily portable and can be fixed in various locations. Further, with a KB TP, as the farmers have to manually paddle to bring out sub-surface water, they take out only as much water as they require.

Due to this, the yield is better both quantitatively and qualitatively, as the field is never over-irrigated. The project was implemented in the following manner:

(i) Identification of potential areas and creating awareness about the affordable KB TP amongst prospective farmers using innovative promotional
activities and distribution of leaflets.

(ii) Establishment of a supply chain through identification, training, and establishment of local individual entrepreneurs for manufacturing, selling and installing
the KB TPs.

(iii) Ensuring monitoring of after-sales service through regular fairs and farmers’ meetings for optimal use of the equipment and increased agricultural productivity.

(iv) Research and Development to improvise existing technologies for partnership with ITT (US) was also established.

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Amitabha Sadangi
International Development Enterprises (India)

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