Low-cost irrigation solution for Malawi

About Solution

The challenge in Malawi:

Access to water in Malawi for domestic and productive purposes remains a huge challenge. It is a fundamental reason for Malawi’s poor state of health and economic underdevelopment – it is ranked 170/188 on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

85% of Malawi’s population is rural and reliant on small-scale agriculture. However, only 10% of small-scale farming households use any form of irrigation and less than 10% have access to safe water within their households.

This results in perennially high food insecurity (35%), as millions of farmers rely solely on the rainfall for their agriculture, and high rates of water borne disease (24% rate of diarrhoea nationally for children under-5).

Our solution: An enterprise-based approach and giving people choices

To address these issues, we developed and tested an enterprise-based approach involvinglocal entrepreneursto install and servicelocally manufactured pumps. We consulted with customers to understand their needs and priorities and designed pumps to be affordable, reliable, easy to use and repair and to ultimately provide an economic benefit.

Our pilot proved that a locally owned model of pump manufacturing, sale and repair could have a long lasting positive economic and social impact on rural communities in Malawi.

We provided evidence that markets for water and sanitation products in rural Malawi can be developed, small-scale businesses can deliver improved sustainability and even very poor people are willing to invest when given choices of suitable products at a reasonable price.

Local entrepreneurs create ripples of positive change

The foundation of our approach is a network of ‘branded’ small-scale local businesses or entrepreneurs to service and repair the pumps. These businesses de-risk investment by the farmer or household by ensuring repair and spares, and in themselves create more local jobs.


The25 entrepreneurs (which included mechanics, well diggers, masons and pump manufacturers) trained during the pilotdoubled their incomeover the pilot period.

By installing new pumps or repairing existing pumps, these entrepreneurs provided convenient and reliable access to water to 22,000 peopleduring the pilot and transformed lives in three key markets:

  • Improved food security and livelihoods for small-scale farmers: Farmers could now grow crops in the dry season rather than wait for the rain thanks to affordable and reliable irrigation pumps. They could also recoup the cost of a pump in one additional winter harvest (0.3ha plot).
  • Reliable community-managed water supplies: pump functionality in the pilot areas improved from c55% to 95% resulting in health and productivity benefits.
  • Convenient household water supplies: the average distance to safe water for customers was 11m instead of over 500m, meaning greater use for consumption and hygiene.

This initiative is already being scaled up to a second District but our ambitions don’t stop there. Over a five-year period Beyond Water aims to replicate this model in nine districts, train a total of 300 entrepreneurs, sell 40,000 pumps and benefit over two million individuals.



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