Today’s water needs outweigh tomorrow’s risks in Kenya

By Scott Weybright, College of Agricultural, Human & Natural Resource Sciences

young-left-and-byersPULLMAN, Wash. – A three-year study at Washington State University has found that Kenyan farmers prefer a rent-to-own option when buying treadle irrigation pumps if they can’t afford outright cash purchase and can’t wait for layaway.

“Our analysis showed that most people had needs too urgent for layaway,” said Tom Byers, director of international research and development at WSU. “They didn’t want to wait to acquire the pump to grow nutritious crops and generate cash to meet their families’ needs” – so they opted for rent-to-own.

But the poorest farmers could not even afford the down payment for rent-to-own – a disappointing finding of the survey, said Doug Young, professor emeritus in the WSU School of Economic Sciences.

Doug Young and several Kenyan assistants observe a farmer operating the treadle pump he and his family use to irrigate his crops.

“The people who benefited the most were those who were at least slightly wealthier to start,” he said, and could afford a cash purchase or the rent-to-own down payment.

Young and Byers surveyed hundreds of farmers in a program subcontracted by KickStart International, a nonprofit aiming to get people out of poverty. WSU evaluated the three financing options.

Based on this and other studies, KickStart has moved to expand the rent-to-own program and will be developing an alternative layaway program for other regions and countries across Africa, Byers said.

Another aspect of the research showed that in groups where women were more involved in the decision-making, more pumps were purchased.

“There’s a long line of research showing that when women are involved in finances, they tend to plough the profits more into children’s nutrition and education,” Young said.

Also, because treadle irrigation pumps don’t use fuel or electricity—they require human power—the pumps tended to increase cooperation within families and between men and women.

It takes several people to work the pumps, so families needed to work collaboratively to get the best use. For example, young people may operate the treadle pump and the mother or father may connect and move the hoses to irrigate their crops.

The pumps were sold to the farmers at cost.

“KickStart’s philosophy is that if farmers make a commitment out of their own resources, they’re more likely to use the pumps productively,” Young said.

Byers and Young found that newly acquired pumps generally improved family welfare in most of the categories measured.

To conduct the work, Byers made three trips to Kenya and Young made one.

The researchers trained Kenyan college graduates – two young women and two young men. The trainees worked with Byers and Young to conduct surveys of local farmers over a three-year period. The young Kenyan researchers eventually collected and input data on their own.


Doug Young, WSU economic sciences, 509-335-1400,
Tom Byers, WSU international research and development, 509-335-2541,