Denver Company Gives Poor Farmers Tools to Rise Out of Poverty
Rashida Begum, a farmer in Bangladesh, steps up and down on a treadle water pump, each step bringing more water to her field and closer to economic security.
She purchased the pump nearly 18 years ago from International Development Enterprises, a Denver-based organization that sells irrigation and water storage and sanitation to farmers in poor countries.
When IDE formed in 1982, its goal was to increase the household incomes of the rural poor. CEO Al Doerksen said there is any number of ways to improve farming in poor areas, but access to clean water is the single biggest point of leverage a family has to growing more food.
The treadle pump, made of wood or bamboo and a metal spout, allows farmers to grow more food and wider variety. The extra food can become a cash opportunity.
“With that income, then farmers or rural households have choices to make. How will they invest that money? Will they capitalize the farm?” said Doerksen. “Will they send their kids to school? Often the answer to that is yes.”
IDE also created a series of drip irrigation systems for regions where water is scarce, and plastic water storage bags to store excess rain and piped water for the dry season. A ceramic water purifier, popular in Cambodia, was designed to reduce the number of water-borne diseases.
IDE charges US$5 to $20 for its products. The technology should also generate enough income in the first season to pay for itself, said Doerksen.
Typically, customers in Asia see an average increase in income of US$150 the first year they use an IDE product, and customers in Africa see an annual income increase of US$300 to $500, according to the group.
IDE’s success is based on viewing its customers as just that — customers — rather than problem cases, and taking into account their needs, said Doerksen.
“Anybody can give stuff away. But if your success is determined by people’s willingness to pay for it, now you have to listen much more carefully to the people. So it’s kind of like a respect issue. But it’s also a way of allowing customers to decide if we’re getting it right or not,” he said.
Another way to view IDE’s customers is as artists. An exhibit running through Saturday at the 910 Arts in downtown Denver features paintings and photos of rural life in places such as India, Honduras, Ethiopia and Vietnam, including the work of one of IDE’s clients. Models of IDE’s products also are available for visitors to try.
“We can think of farmers as artists, and their raw materials are the dirt that they work in and the food that they grow … is in essence their art,” said Doerksen. “Families that are not food secure do not have time to make art,” he added.