Pump It Up
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WHAT WE WANT TO FIX
Having food on our table is not something we need to worry about, but this isn’t always the case for many parts of the world.
In rural Zimbabwe, people rely on the food they grow. Communities live without running water or electricity. During the rainy season, staple food is grown in the fields - corn, wheat, and potatoes. But fresh vegetables are needed year-round to meet dietary needs. Traditionally, women are in charge of growing vegetables in communal gardens. The women grow tomatoes, spinach, carrots, onions, and other vegetables, which are a source of livelihood for their family. When harvest is good, they are able to sell the surplus, adding a desired income for their families. Gardens are located near rivers, which are used as a source for irrigation.
When the dry season begins and the water level in the river falls, the women create small dams near the gardens. To irrigate, the women fill 5 gallon buckets, and carry it up a 30-feet steep slope to the river bank. Each woman makes this trek many times each week, and while their strength and optimism throughout this arduous task is seriously awe-inspiring, we know there are simple, effective solutions that will make this task much simpler.
We want to introduce irrigation pumps to the women’s gardens. Water pumps are cheap, simple and efficient, making them an ideal method to bring water up from the river to the gardens. To operate, an irrigation pump will be connected to a power source and to a hose. In cases where the garden is more than 30 feet away from the river bank, a water container will also be installed. These irrigation systems are designed to be affordable (approximately $500), mobile (to be shared by several gardens), simple (easy to install), durable (low maintenance), strong (operate in difficult conditions such as steep elevation and silty water), and sustainable (solar-powered).
In this pilot, we want to be able to demonstrate the efficiency of this solution. Since we aren’t members of the community, there is only so much we can do from a technical standpoint from the other side of the world. Our plan is to purchase and install several different pumps, batteries and solar panels, and test their suitability to the technical as well as the cultural needs.
WATER AVAILABILITY AND CLIMATE CHANGE
This year, because of the strong El Nino, Zimbabwe did not receive much rain, and there is barely any flowing water in the river. In such conditions, the women dig pits in the sandy river bed and put small concrete rings into the pits. These structures fill up with water, just like it does when you dig a hole at the beach. The women then take small cups and fill each bucket from water that accumulates in the pit. In such a situation, our small pumps can be really helpful - they can be submersed into these small pits and pump up the water in seconds.
In recent years, climate change has had an adverse affect on agriculture in Zimbabwe, and future forecasts are not optimistic. Crop yields suffer and the community often goes hungry. Small technical solutions such as the irrigation pump systems have good chances of maintaining livelihood on the farms. In drought conditions, even a few irrigation cycles per season, created by the pumps ability to access the smallest amounts of water, allows the garden and the community to continue to grow.
OUTREACH AND IMPACT
Donations will go directly towards equipment costs and travel, but the indirect effects of donations will stretch much farther. Focusing on women’s gardens allows us to empower women, and highlight their talents, skills, and energies. Installing and testing the irrigation systems will be a collaborative process. Once the most appropriate system will be selected, the women will be able to train the community on how to use them. When possible, system components will be purchased locally. This will allow to replicate the system in other community gardens.
We will also teach useful methods to help gardeners improve water use efficiency, and preparedness to climate change. The women we teach will then be able to sell their skills and knowledge. The irrigation pumps will not only increase the economical input from the gardens, but possibly create a new position as irrigation experts. By empowering women, the quality of life for the whole communities will be improved. Please make a gift today to help us make this project a reality. Your support will make such a difference in the lives of these women and their surrounding communities.
This year, if we pass our funding goal, we will also purchase drip irrigation systems for the community gardens.
Next year, we will use our insights from this pilot project to design the optimal irrigation system and make it scalable across other women’s community gardens in other parts of Africa.
As an Environmental Scientist, I always search for new paths that widen my experience. I strive to draw as many connections as possible between pure academics, practical experience, and people’s lives. Last year I traveled to Zimbabwe as a volunteer consultant with a small NGO, the Mounde Trust (http://www.muonde.org/), to work on water harvesting projects. Because I’m a backyard gardener, I asked my host to take me to visit a place I heard about - the women's’ garden. I was stricken by the beauty of the place, the communal support and shared work. But I was simply amazed by all the hard work of carrying water buckets, when there are such simple solutions! I promised to come back with pumps, and I will! For me, gardening is a hobby; for the women of Zimbabwe it means survival.
I first heard about Naama and this project through my hydrology professor at UC Berkeley. As an aspiring environmental engineer, and as someone who cares deeply about water issues, I realized that Pump it Up was a project that I absolutely wanted to be a part of. I believe that water, as a fundamental human need, is a fundamental human right, so improving access to water around the world is incredibly important to me. This project does exactly that for a community that needs it.
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