An Interview With Futurepump's Jitendra Lakhani

Published Jun. 12, 2018

By Sunetra Senior for Asian Voice

About Powering Agriculture

Powering Agriculture: An Energy Grand Challenge for Development supports the development and deployment of clean energy innovations that increase agriculture productivity and stimulate low carbon economic growth in the agriculture sector of developing countries to help end extreme poverty and extreme hunger.

We were delighted to talk with co-founder of the excellent humanitarian company, Futurepump, whose core ethos is to “help marginalised farmers anywhere across the world.”

Having begun the distribution of their special solar-powered irrigation pumps to local farmers in Africa, the growing enterprise has now been able to turn their attention to supplying in India, where their manufacturing arm is based. Jitendra also emphasised the eventuality of being able to aid those who might need agricultural support in the west: “this includes Britain and the US.” But the company’s current momentum is certainly borne of the primary focus on affecting equality in the developing world.

A very happy memory,” Jitendra elaborated, “was witnessing the very real results of our product with some farmers in rural Kenya. I had been managing from India and it was the first time I got to see our pump in the hands of the prospective customers, yielding significant and healthy crops.”

Valuably boosting vegetable produce, a Futurepump helped one farmer—this time from Tanzania—go from irrigating only a half an acre of his four units to roughly two and a half acres each year.

“The ease with which these individuals can farm their vegetables can lift them out of poverty,” Jitendra commented. “Without the help of our equipment a farmer would have to solely depend on the annual rain of their country. By allowing them to access and make available the extra water, they can increase their cycles of crop from one to as many as three a year. There’s then a bigger revenue and a better profit margin.” Indeed, so empowered have some Futurepump recipients become that they can even rent out the handy product when it’s not in use to further supplement a personal income. This might not indicate the same degree of luxury as the participation in the first-world phenomenon of Airbnb, but it comes reassuringly close!

It also begs the question: what exactly is the genius technology that can parallel the online west? Well, the articulate Jitendra was more than happy to divulge: “Our current model is the SF2 which is a beautiful, compact pump which also has the advantage of a data logging system. One can therefore detect immediately if a pump is malfunctioning. This is especially great for remote farmers. It runs simply but effectively: on 80 watts through a solar photovoltaic system. This is comprised of a panel and pump, and is able to draw water from any shallow water source.” Portability and durability were then foremost at the design stage. “We wanted to support farmers who would need to walk long distances,” who also rely on Futurepump to feed the wider community.

The cutting-edge research materialised, Futurepump was recently given the Ashden Award in 2017, and were invited to present the product at the International Solar Alliance in March of this year: “This was a big highlight,” Jitendra beamed. “The alliance is constituted of 121 nations who receive good solar light, with India and France heading. It was an absolute honour to present on our prized pumps.”

Futurepump is established in roughly 12 different countries, with the likelihood of becoming a global brand within the next 5 years.

Here, another unique aspect of the pumps is that they are environmentally friendly, protecting the whole planet as well as the pecked pockets of the third-world’s little man. The use of clean and renewable energy is an obvious alternative to fossil fuels and the potentially industrial-sized machines that run on them. Thus, not only does Jitendra’s beneficial vision demonstrate the success in being “socially impactful”, but also this as creating good business. “We are doing so well because we’re considering people’s actual needs. We are looking at what is required” – the purest expression of otherwise superficial want.

As evident through Jitendra’s friendly conversation, this genuineness is also extended to the staff and their training policy: “My leadership role means I have a responsibility to our employees: to give guidance, advice and tips. It’s important to give our staff members a strong direction. At the lower rung, we work to encourage youngsters who are college drop-outs or are thinking of giving up education to instead pursue their learning and see the benefits of the workplace.”

This means the company contributes to social development in the immediate urban surroundings too. “When working with graduates, I consider how aware they are of our company philosophy: we are community-orientated and competent. Another key point then is the emotional approach.” Much like the pragmatic yet ranging imagination of the Futurepump itself, “the visionary energy of youngsters must be channelled into smaller, robust components to achieve the tangible results. Furthermore, they cannot be single-minded. They must be willing to grow with our project rather than moving in leaps and bounds.” Ultimately, Futurepump champions an ubiquitous definition of growing and growth.

What is your particular role in the Futurepump family?

I am at the head of Indian operations, and my concentration is presently on troubleshooting, bottle necks and the supply chain. Previously, I was heavily involved in the development and establishment of the product too. I also liase with government bodies and am a caring mentor to my employees.

Tell us more about your mentoring of straying youth.

I believe education is as much about professional maturity as it is the concrete learning. I also get involved in helping the youth appreciate the simple power of eliminating bad habits. For example, tobacco addiction. Even more broadly, in terms of company practice, a lot of progress lies in identifying the weak points.

What is the founding story of Futurepump?

I had been in the industry for 25 years, and this wonderful socially conscious opportunity came along. I wanted to use my entrepreneurial skills to help the masses. Futurepump sets out to be a worldwide service: never really limited to one particular segment.

Not that this is possible, but are there further benefits with Futurepump?

Yes. As you do not need to manually pump or carry water, our pumps also save time. This is especially important for the women in agriculture who tend to be left with the arduous task of irrigating.

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