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Resource-smart technology

Bridging the design gap between the developed and developing worlds

For a small-scale farmer, there is never enough: time, money, energy, or water. Farming is extremely resource-intensive. It takes time to harvest crops, quality seeds and fertilizer cost money, diesel pumps need fuel, and water never seems to be where you need it, when you need it. Basically, farming requires expensive inputs to produce optimal yields.

Solar Pump

Most solar pumps are over-designed and too expensive for a small-scale farmer. iDE is partnering with private companies to develop, test, and commercialize a new category of solar pumps specifically aimed at these farmers. Requiring less than 100 watts to operate, these pumps can irrigate up to 2,000 square meters of vegetables and have a payback period of two growing seasons.

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(Photo by Ryan Weber/iDE)

Globally, agriculture accounts for 70 percent of water usage and 30 percent of energy consumption. Understanding that small-scale farming families have severe resource limitations, iDE works to help minimize the pressure on labor, income, water, and energy by identifying and re-designing technologies existing at the intersection of these four resources, which can have a life-changing impact on struggling farmers. iDE is helping these farmers modernize—but in a smart way, a way that works for them and that they can afford.

Drip Irrigation

While drip irrigation reduces the amount of water needed and increases crop yield, it is actually the labor savings aspect of drip irrigation that farmers most appreciate. Drip irrigation has been commercially available in the developed world for over 100 years. iDE works with partners to transform that same technology to an appropriate size and price point for small-scale farmers.

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Not smart technology, but resource-smart technology

We call this resource-smart technology. This is technology that fits within the context of the farm, village, region, and country in which it is deployed. Rather than being a “one-size-fits-all” solution, resource-smart technology acknowledges limitations and strives to make the most of those resources

Price-smart: Affordability is built into our approach through careful assessment of trade-offs between convenience, performance, durability, aesthetics, and cost during the technology design and adaptation stage. iDE aims for farmers to be able to pay off any technologies they purchase in only one or two growing seasons.

Energy-smart: Historically, accessing water has required significant human power. More recently, small fossil-fuel powered engine pumps have become increasingly accessible and preferable to small-scale farmers, but access to fuel and price fluctuations continue to be issues. iDE’s work in solar pumps strives to make small-scale farmers completely independent from human or fossil-fuel power.

Labor-smart: The average farmer lifts and hauls over four tons of water per day to irrigate a 500-square-meter field. iDE identifies and adapts existing technologies to automate and mechanize some of the more-labor intensive aspects of farming.

Water-smart: With access to water becoming more erratic and irregular as a result of climate change, it is important that our technologies are as efficient as possible with water. We strive for “more crop per drop.”

Manual Well-Drilling

Mechanized well-drilling is far too costly for small-scale farmers. In Ethiopia, iDE is improving upon a popular method of manual well-drilling, where a small team uses a lever to pound a pipe into the ground. This process allows for farmers to build a well for one-tenth of the cost of a traditional well, providing regular access to groundwater for irrigation.

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We investigate ideas in a prototyping facility in Denver. But before anything is implemented in the field, it gets tested in one of our five technology centers: Bangladesh, Honduras, Burkina Faso, Nepal, and Mozambique. In this way, iDE bridges the “design gap” between the developed and developing worlds. By seeing how a device performs in “real-world” conditions, we often discover issues that the designer had not anticipated. For example, a pump that was designed and tested only using filtered water will quickly become fouled and stop working when presented with water containing sediment and minerals. We identify issues like these and communicate the results to the broader iDE community and to external customers. Our engineers resolve these issues and identify how technology can be manufactured using locally available materials, so that local entrepreneurs can be the source.

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Power in numbers

Forming groups can improve farmers' access to markets

A farmer acting alone will often have to settle for less money in the small window of opportunity she has for selling. But what if this farmer can join with her neighbors, pooling their crops together to share storage and transportation costs, and provide a more attractive package for large buyers?

Read more: iDE's “commercial pocket” approach links farmers with each other and to the market