Treadle Pump: A Low Cost Game Changer

Treadle Pump: A Low Cost Game Changer

Despite her financial struggles, 40-year-old farmer Sunduri Nayak has many dreams. Having received no formal education herself, she aspires to educate all her children. And what makes are so certain of her future is a treadle pump that was installed in her village. “With the pump we can now irrigate more land and grow more crops,” she explains.

Sunduri lives with her husband Gopabandhu Nayak, five daughters and one son in a small kutcha house in Lingamguda village, in Odisha’s Koraput district. Despite the limited resources, she has ensured an education for all her children. Her eldest daughter is pursuing higher studies.

Sunduri has experienced inequality and discrimination first hand at the hands of the government officials. She says,“I want my children to lead a better life. This is not farming, rather a trap. After long hours of backbreaking labour, we barely get anything. Just look at government servants. They lead a good life.” She wants her children to become government officers!

Agriculture is Sunduri’s family’s main source of income supplemented with daily wage labour. Both work as unskilled labourers. Since they live in a remote village with limited job opportunities, the additional labour work is not very regular.

Things started looking up for the family when the Rainfed Area Development Programme (RADP) was implemented in their area. Lingamguda is located in a rainfed zone where ginger, sweet potato and other rainfed vegetables are the main cash crops. However, sometimes it can be a gamble due to erratic rainfall affecting the production, which results in fluctuating prices and less profitability.

Sunduri’s family owns less than one hectare of land; it is a mix of low and medium-level, and is vulnerable to flash floods. It is mostly red lateritic soil with boulders scattered all over, not ideal for remunerative farming. She rainfed vegetables, ginger and sweet potatoes every year. She preferred cultivating low water consuming crops like tomato and green peas early or pre-Rabi season. She says, “I wished to cultivate more, but could not irrigate my crops.”

With financial support from the RADP, Sunduri dug a farm pond. Though it’s not suitable for pisciculture, water is available for small-scale vegetable cultivation throughout the year. But the RADP did not bring alternative irrigation technologies that were suitable for the land. The pond was, at best, a tentative irrigation solution for the villagers.

Sunduri and the other farmers cultivating on their own land had to undertake exhausting irrigation practises such as filling water in pots or buckets and carrying them to and fro. Sunduri managed to grow chilli crops during the Kharif season and tomato in the Rabi season in less than 0.3 acres with this tedious irrigation process.

Things began to change for the women farmers once the Oxfam India-Sita Devi Malhotra Charitable (SDMC) Trust project started in February 2021. The project with the support from NGOs WORD and Prastutee, was started in the Semiliguda and Pottangi blocks of Koraput for the economic empowerment of tribal women.

After a preliminary needs assessment in Lingamguda, a women farmer producer group was formed. In May 2021, the group comprising 52 women farmers was formed. Sunduri was one among them. One of the first things they discussed was the farm pond, the difficulty in irrigation, and the need for proper irrigation in the area. Our team then started discussions around low cost irrigation technologies.

After some deliberation, the treadle pump was decided as the idle irrigation system for the area. Its procurement and operational cost was affordable, as was its maintenance cost. It had low levels of water expulsion, which was suitable for small water bodies such as farm ponds. Moreover, since it is a foot-operated device, it is also easy to use.

A treadle pump costing INR 6500 was installed in Lingamguda after the Kharif season, with Sunduri in charge of it. Three other women farmers will also use this treadle pump to irrigate an area of about 2 acres during the Rabi season. Whether they use the pump for the Zaid season will depend on intermediate summer rains and water availability in the farm pond.

Sunduri now cultivates brinjal, potato, tomato, chilly, green peas, carrot and radish in about one acre of land during the Rabi season. The treadle pump has helped to triple the cropping area. Her family expects a big hike of approximately INR 40000 to 50000 rupees in annual income from agriculture.

As a collective benefit, the treadle pump has led to an increase in three acres of land for cultivation, it ensures off-season vegetable cultivation and it has created the possibility of an increment of approximately INR 100,000 in annual income through agriculture for four families.

Sunduri, and other women farmers like her, no longer have to resort to tedious irrigation methods. She says, “Earlier we used to transport water by pot and bucket and irrigate at the root/pit, which would result in body pain. After the representatives from Prastutee gave us a treadle pump, irrigation has become easier. Now we can cultivate more crops in more land”.

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