Sam Rulli / Xylem Essence of Life
Saajhi Stepping Pump
Saajhi Stepping Pump
Saajhi Stepping Pump
The Saajhi Stepping Pump is a field-serviceable, stepping pump that leverages human weight and gravity to move water and irrigate crops. This technology enables smallholder farmers in rural markets to efficiently irrigate crops by drawing water from a nearby source and transporting it to crop fields for irrigation. Saajhi’s design uses nearly 40 percent less water compared to traditional furrow irrigation and requires no fossil fuels, electrical connections or standing power supply. Due to these functions, it is capable of more than tripling the revenue of smallholder farmers in emerging markets.2.The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you? Who is the at-risk population, and what behavior do you seek to change in this population?
Farmers comprise one-third of the global population; 1.5 billion of this third are smallholder, or subsistence farmers. In many countries, the average smallholder farmer owns five acres of land or less. These meager plots of land produce only enough food annually to feed a single family and when used for revenue generation, place this group of rural farmers at the base of the economic pyramid. Irrigation is the core of any successful farming operation. Smallholder farmers need proper irrigation equipment, including water pumps, to maximize their yield-to-land ratios and elevate their farming operations to realize greater prosperity and establish sustainable enterprise.
Xylem partnered with rural marketing experts and major Non Government Organizations (NGOs) to work with smallholder farmers in India, Africa, Pan-Asia and South America on their irrigation priorities as part of comprehensive voice of customer research. The bulk of this research consisted of more than 750 interviews in rural farming communities. The research uncovered core features and attributes that any typical farmer values in a water pump: the ability to increase revenue as a result of using the product; labor and time reduction; output maximization; a focus on design and quality; and the ability to integrate directly with more efficient crop irrigation methodologies.
Seeing this global need, Xylem designed and produced the highly-customized Saajhi Stepping Pump to address this issue and support economic growth for subsistence farmers.
As the director of innovative networks and marketing for Xylem, my responsibilities included defining the appropriate business model, identifying the rural value propositions and coordinating the overall design and production readiness. During the initial Saajhi pump conceptualization, I began aggressive global travel, spending upward of 60 percent of my time abroad and in rural smallholder farming fields. It was readily apparent that rural value propositions wouldn’t be discovered behind a desk in Boston, Mass. During my time abroad, including India, Malawi and Bangladesh, I developed personal connections with farmers who were drastically affected by their inability to efficiently transport water to their crops. This experience gave me a unique insight and compassion to understand the people this product had the potential to impact.
Fueled by the momentum of this field research, our team engaged the needs of these smallholder farmers by embracing nonconventional design. The Saajhi Stepping Pump is the culmination of our collective efforts.
As part of its mission to define and deliver innovative products that solve global water challenges, Xylem created the Essence of Life (EOL) program, which fields a business-vetted channel, designed to not only connect farmers with the products needed for their operations, but to provide a sustainable service proposition while building new markets for our products and our partners’ products. EOL represents rural customer business engagement and enterprise, coupling leading technology and channel design with the aspirational nature and individual initiative of rural farmers. The Saajhi pump was created as part of this EOL model.
Understanding the needs of smallholder farmers was absolutely critical, and Xylem knows the importance of gaining irrigation insights directly from farmers. To support Xylem’s voice of customer research, the company executed socioeconomic mapping of water use and tracked poverty levels relative to access to water management technologies, applications and storage methods. Xylem also conducted pretotyping, prototyping and rapid field sampling of water pumping units. Pretotyping was essential to begin water pump testing. Xylem deployed more than 60 pretotype pumps across our target areas, supported by multiple technology demonstrations. Pretotyping also set the stage for appropriate prototyping. Multiple product design iterations were fielded to check the veracity of improvements and modifications for the water pump with farmers directly, in-field and during cropping cycles. Geographically-centric NGO partners were selected and engaged to ensure the accuracy of local engagements and interactions.
Customer profiling was completed in the regions previously mentioned to address the following items: geographic locations and topography, market locations and characteristics, community and individual demographic profiles, education profiles and aspirational qualities, irrigation sources and characteristics, branding recognition and preference drives, along with a few other key customer needs.
This research, including the interviews of more than 750 farmers, uncovered core features and attributes that a typical smallholder farmer values in a water pump: the ability to increase revenue as a result of using an innovative product; labor and time reduction; output maximization; a focus on design and quality; and the ability to integrate directly with more efficient crop irrigation methodologies. These needs defined the core value propositions for the product design. The research also showed that subsistence farmers, in many cases, value similar attributes as large-scale commercial farmers. Complementing these interviews, Xylem pulled demographic data for targeted regions, through its industrial design partner. This data ensured a focus on ergonomics in the final design.
Based on this extensive field research, pretotyping and prototyping, Xylem developed the Saajhi Stepping Pump, a design decision that was found to put the least amount of strain and stress on the operator. This product was created especially for the smallholder farmer using the self-priming diaphragm technology derived from Xylem’s industry leading marine pump technology. Xylem tested the pump against three competitive products and the Saajhi proved to have greater flow output per step at all tested depths of water. On average the Saajhi pump had a 70 percent increase over competitors.
The benefits of diaphragm pumps compared to piston pumps, generally found in these rural markets, include: perfect sealing, higher efficiency, self-priming and debris resistance.
Saajhi Stepping Pump testing demonstrated a greater than 15 percent increase in water output per step, equating to an additional 10 liters per minute over similar pumping methods. Furthermore, Xylem’s research highlights that farmer application of treadle pumps has been shown to produce three times or greater yield in revenue through output and crop cycle increases, compared to rain-fed fields.
The Saajhi Stepping Pump, which is valued at $200 for smallholder farmers, is a unique product with the potential to change the lives of millions of farmers in Pan-Asia, Africa and South America. It is an affordable product that can help increase productivity and revenue for smallholder farmers. Accessibility was a key factor for the sustainable business model.
The long-term sustainability of a business supplying water pumps in rural communities is reliant upon two financial factors: the ability to get return on investment in relation to appropriate product pricing; and the customer’s ability to source funds efficiently – often by engaging with microfinance institutions (MFIs). India, in particular, has embraced the advantages of MFIs in agriculture. Access to MFIs for equipment, is shifting the traditional mentality of the smallholder farmer in rural India toward more globalized perspective.
There are a number of other ways in which the pump can impact the lives of smallholder farmers, including:
Revenue increases – The Saajhi pump can produce three times or greater yield in revenue through output and crop cycle increases, compared to rain-fed fields.
Labor time reduction – Pressurized water delivery provides more than 25 percent reduction in labor time, compared with traditional furrow irrigation methods.
Output maximization (based on human input) – The pump ensures a greater than 15 percent increase in water output per step, which equates to an additional 10 liters per minute over similar pumping methods.
Ultimately, our Essence of Life strategy combines these principles into creating sustainable enterprise.
Our research has helped us identify which features are desirable to smallholder farmers. Specifically, Xylem’s research correlated with discussions across four key areas: quality and product design, irrigation preference, brand selection and source of funds.
Upon receiving a Saajhi pump, farmers note that the product is simple to set up, involving minimal parts, all of which are easily replaceable in the field with no special tools. Here are some key statistics highlighting features most important to farmers:
80 percent of those surveyed recognized ease of operation as the primary motivator.
67 percent of respondents identified flow rate performance as a key part of their consideration.
89 percent expressed quality reputation as the key purchasing factor.
In order to sell the Saajhi pump to customers, Xylem utilizes its hybrid value chain to leverage collaborative partnerships that deliver products and customer service to smallholder farmers. To date, Xylem has sold Saajhi pumps to hybrid value chain partners in more than 10 countries.
Since its release, the Saajhi pump has also received a certification that qualifies it for Indian rural government programs. The Certification Report, issued by the Indian State Level Farm Machinery Training and Testing Center, is given by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Department of Agriculture and Cooperation in Odisha, India. Companies must pass a lengthy certification process at a government endorsed testing site, ensuring quality and ease of product operation. Additionally, the Saajhi pump was recognized at the U.S. Tech H20 event at the State Department in Washington, DC.
Because many smallholder farmers are located in rural areas with rugged terrain, the Saajhi Stepping Pump was design to withstand drops, kicks, severe weather, high salinity water and other extreme factors. In order to achieve this durability, a number of technical considerations were addressed. The Saajhi pump is built using low carbon steel where structural integrity is needed and glass reinforced polypropylene at locations that experience a high rate of corrosion. This ensures the structural integrity of the product. Inside, a diaphragm pump minimizes friction and water loss, while ensuring that mud and debris do not damage the equipment.
To test this durability, Xylem conducted extensive life testing on the Saajhi pump, operating the product with more than three million steps, representing more than five years of usage. The pump withstood this level of use, requiring only a new diaphragm after approximately one year of operation. This, along with all other Saajhi pump parts, are obtainable through EOL’s innovative distribution network and require no tools and minimal effort to replace.
The Saajhi Stepping Pump was designed based on extensive field research Xylem conducted across India, Africa, Pan-Asia and South America. This research suggests that this pump fills market gaps in a way no product accessible to smallholders ever has.To support the price elasticity exhibited by rural communities and ensure ongoing economic viability, the Saajhi pump is manufactured in Xylem’s India manufacturing facility. This strategy allows for the lowest obtainable cost position while maintaining a critical focus on manufacturing quality.