Question and Answer Series: Innovators Create Low-cost Hydro Powered Irrigation Pump
This entry was written in collaboration with Securing Water for Food and is the final in a series exploring the work of innovators who have created mechanisms designed to conserve water in farming systems.
Featured below is Pratap Thapa, the Co-founder and Commercial Director of aQysta, whose inventors created a low-cost, hydro-powered irrigation pump that does not require any fuel or electricity, has no operating expenses and does not emit any polluting greenhouse gases.
1) First, tell us a bit about why you decided to create the product that you are now building.
I come from a farming family in Nepal. Having our farm next to a river but still struggling to irrigate it sparked an idea to use the energy in the river itself to lift it to our farms. The conventional irrigation approach was either to depend on rainfall, which limits the growing season and yield, or use fossil fuel-based pumps, which are very costly to operate due to fuel prices and maintenance and also polluting the environment.
Having looked at the problem, we, as group of engineers at Delft University of Technology, set out to develop a technological solution to this common dilemma. We developed the Barsha Pump, a low-cost, hydro-powered irrigation pump that does not require any fuel or electricity, has no operating expenses and does not emit any polluting greenhouse gases.
As we started working on it, we soon realized it was not a problem limited to Nepal but a global problem. Accordingly, we are a startup aiming to grow into a global organization with an international team and network and expand our reach worldwide. We have already gone on to install Barsha pumps with drip irrigation and sprinkler systems in Spain and Turkey.
2) How does the innovation contribute to water savings?
The Barsha Pump allows access to water that could not be easily accessed without a pump. It can be used in two scenarios: to irrigate land above or next to a water source, and the second is as a form of drip/sprinkler irrigation to replace traditional flood irrigation.
3) Did you set out to create a product that dually benefited reducing water usage and supporting farmers' livelihoods, or did it emerge over time? If the former, what inspired you/drove you to want to solve for water issues?
What started as a university project to solve irrigation problems faced by smallholder farmers in Nepal we soon realized was a global problem that was looking for a sustainable solution. That is when we decided to form a company—aQysta—and begin developing the solution.
4) Building a social enterprise that benefits the marketplace—your company bottom line—and the social good is gaining ground in the international development space. What advice would you give to others trying to break into social enterprises that benefit social good that you wish you had before you started?
My advice: understand the context well. It is important to understand the need before setting out to design something. Also, it is important to be close to the market to test and validate ideas.
There is a lot of talk around impact investment, but there are only a few private organizations who stand truly behind the philosophy of earning money while doing social good. Thus, it is quite difficult to attract private investment working in this sector. Be creative to find funds required to grow your business.
5) Tell us what your next steps are. How can Agrilinks community members benefit from your work and/or help advance the use of your product?
We are working towards developing innovative hardware products for the agriculture sector, as we have gained insights into product development cycles over the past few years. This knowledge could be useful for other Agrilinks community members who are working with technological agriculture products.
We have built a good network within this sector, particularly in Nepal and the Netherlands. If other members are in need of this network, we can help.
We are looking to distribute our technology globally, so help from the community members in introducing us to potential distributors would be appreciated. We would also like to be connected with large companies working in the irrigation sector, such as Netafim, for whom our product could be a part of the package they offer to customers. Finally, we are looking for growth capital, so any connections to investment firms/public funds will be appreciated.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Sweden through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (MFA-NL) and the government of South Africa invite eligible organizations to respond to the 4th Round of Securing Water for Food: A Grand Challenge for Development. This Request for Applications (RFA) is a funding competition to source and accelerate innovations that enables the production of more food with less water or make more water available for food production, processing and distribution. Individual awards are expected to be between $100,000 USD and $2 million USD depending on the type of funding requested. Applications will be accepted from through October 10, 2016. Please help us spread the world by forwarding to your relevant networks. For more information, click here.