More than 26 years ago, Dr. Martin Fisher and Nick Moon, two men from very different backgrounds, found themselves bonding over their mutual obsession with the same question: How is it that billions of dollars of well-intentioned aid had not succeeded in alleviating poverty for the millions of people in Africa who are struggling on a daily basis to make ends meet?
The two men had each been working in international development and discovered that their vastly different experiences had culminated in a shared recognition of the need to examine the shortcomings of traditional development. Out of these examinations, the two went on to launch KickStart, an organization that aims to lift Africans out of poverty by enabling them to make more money.
KickStart does this by zeroing in on the needs that exist within the irrigation sector in Africa. The company designs and manufactures affordable, clean-energy pumps, which enable smallholder farmers to “make rain” in order to increase their crop yields and their incomes. The pumps are sold through the existing local private sector in the countries where KickStart works. In addition, the organization provides direct education on irrigation techniques to farmers, whom they access primarily through partner organizations.
“It takes a tremendous amount of education and outreach to create awareness around irrigation, because there is really no history of it in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is also why it is so powerful for farmers,” said Jenna Rogers-Rafferty, Director of Development and Strategic Alliances. “Currently, less than 4 percent of farmland in Africa is under irrigation, so we really have to change the behavior and go against what farmers have been practicing for centuries.”
By partnering with organizations like the World Food Bank, KickStart is able to both provide irrigation training and education to farmers, as well as refer partners to local supply chain distributors where their pumps can be purchased. They also provide farmers with agribusiness training, guidance on getting crops to market, and help to create a mindset of farming as a business.
KickStart is also focused on studying and bringing to the forefront the different ways that irrigation can positively impact people in Africa on a number of levels. For example, Rogers-Rafferty points to data they have collected that shows how irrigation is central to improving issues of health, medical treatment, climate change resilience, and women’s empowerment.
The organization is currently partnering with the University of California San Francisco on a groundbreaking study examining the impact of irrigation on health outcomes for HIV/AIDS patients. One of the findings has been that food security is a strong pathway for successful treatment of the disease, mostly because the antiviral medications must be taken with food in order to prevent patients from feeling sick and to work properly.
In the area of women’s empowerment, Rogers-Rafferty said that African women are typically in charge of tending to household water and irrigation needs, as they supervise the smaller garden vegetable crops, while men tend to focus on the commercial rainfed crops. Providing women with access to irrigation equipment for these garden crops allows them to greatly increase their economic contribution to their household, as vegetable crops are higher-value than crops like maize. As the women increase their earnings, they also increase their stature within their family and community.
To do this work, KickStart partners with organizations who are coordinating farming efforts on the ground in Africa.
“It’s the partnerships like the one that we have with the World Food Bank that are examples of real “win-win-win” situations,” she said. “These partnerships allow us to show how irrigation provides many positive, unexpected outcomes in so many ways.”