Solar Irrigation Project
In the summer of 2013, co-founder Dan Lilly planned a trip to volunteer within the HIV/AIDS community in Kenya. At the same time, his father Brian Lilly received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a solar powered irrigation pump for women smallholder farmers in Africa. At first glance, the two events may seem unrelated, however it quickly became apparent that they were inextricably linked. After both Brian and Dan met Mary Wanderi, the founder of Living Positive Kenya, they learned that irrigation pumps and HIV+ women were actually a natural fit.
Two of the vital tools in the fight against AIDS are proper nutrition, and income to pay for medicine. Medicine costs between 5-10,000 shillings a month ($50- $100 USD), which can be an insurmountable financial strain as the average annual income is less than $1,000 USD throughout much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, 65% of Sub-Saharan Africans are subsistence farmers who depend on seasonal rains and often laborious irrigation methods to provide for themselves and their families. The particularly strenuous labor associated with farming often falls on the women and children, who they witnessed manually irrigating for up to 6 hours a day by drawing buckets from shallow wells. Dan and Brian recognized that if they could find a way to make a low-cost, easy to operate, portable irrigation system, there would be enormous demand. Such a system could reduce the backbreaking labor these often sick women were putting their bodies through, while also increasing yields/income. This would then allow for them to pay for medicine as well as school fees for their children (there are no free schools in Kenya).
Over the past two years, Dan, Brian and co-founder Nick Hopkins have worked closely with both LPK, who operates a farm from which the women in their program are fed, as well as several other NGOs and CBOs who similarly use agriculture as a way to help with food security, pay for medicine, and sponsor orphanages around Kenya. The end result is the ‘MajiPump’, a small-scale solar-powered irrigation system that fits in a backpack. The system eliminates labor, while providing many-times more water per day than can be achieved manually. The system is transforming lives. The farmers love how simple it is to operate, and the cost is much lower than any comparable motorized system. It is also completely green, as it is solar powered and needs no battery.
As an organization we hope to continue to bring these systems to people in the most need. ‘MajiPump’ gives low-income families the chance to improve their lives. As irrigation pays for itself and then some, we hope to use micro-financing to allow farmers to gradually pay for their MajiPumps which will encourage them to take ownership of their systems, while also allowing us to continue to spread the pump to more people without continued major fundraising efforts. Furthermore, a primary focus of LPK is their WEEP (women economic empowerment plan) program. This is an 18 month program that teaches HIV+ women skills that can then be used to make an income. We employ the women in the LPK classes to make the carry-bags for the systems, which provides them with a new avenue to make money.