Saturday, July 30, 2011

Introducing our New Low Tech and Effective Water Pump

By Kimberly Duncan
ECHO Asia Intern
Back when Janis -- our now departed intern of yore -- was setting up an irrigation for our moringa plots (, it was decided that better pressure for the existing irrigation network in our main production plots was also needed. Once the rainy season is over, we will need to get water out of our pond, up a hill, and back down into the plots; however, our motorized pump keeps breaking. What to do? Appropriate technology to the rescue!

As an aside, there is an ongoing debate about the actual appropriateness of what has been labeled “appropriate technology.” Protagonists define “appropriate technology” as “using what you have to make what you need,” (Doerr).* Antagonists complain that the term is just a euphemism to soothe the consciences of those who don’t want to provide modern technological advances to the poor. The debate can go deep, and, initially, you may be tempted to side with the antagonists, but from our end, with our modern, electrically-run pump constantly on the fritz, we are championing the protagonists. Read a little further and see if you find yourself changing camps.
It just so happened that while we were sorting out our water needs and having a few choice words with our lifeless pump, several gentlemen from the Karen Baptist Convention (KBC)** in Myanmar came to visit UHDP as part of the Convention’s research into sustainable agriculture and appropriate technologies. Among them Saw Eh Lay and Saw Ler Mou had recently received training at the hands of an Australian engineer who taught them how to build a “rope and washer pump.”*** It was an opportunity too good to pass up. We “roped” them into helping us find an “appropriate” solution to our water pumping needs.
The building of the “rope and washer pump” took just two men and three days. Using PVC plastic piping, rubber washers, nylon rope, an old bicycle, and a little cement to hold it in place, they created a hand-crank system that can pump 20 liters per minute from the pond up the hill and into our water storage tanks! These items were either already available on the farm or found in our local market. A person standing by the pump simply turns the crank, feeding the rope with washers spaced at regular intervals over the bicycle wheels down into the water and back up through the PVC. Forced along the rope by the washers, the water makes the trip from the pond to the tanks with only a little escaping at the apex of the system. In a matter of minutes a 100 gallon tank is filled! Dry season, here we come!

*Doerr, Elizabeth. "Introduction to Appropriate Technology." Internship Lecture Series. ECHO. Appropriate Technologies Demonstration Center, ECHO Farm, N. Fort Myers, FL. 2009. Lecture.

** The Karen Baptist Convention or KBC was established in Myanmar in 1913. It currently includes 20 associations which seek to provide Christian education and publications, care and counseling, communications and social services, and technology and development, with an overall emphasis in leadership training. Along with rope and washer pumps, Saw Eh Lay and Saw Ler Mou (pictured above) are also trying out rice husk gasifier stoves in hopes of introducing them to rural areas in Myanmar without access to electricity and to help reduce deforestation.

*** Designs and diagrams for a variety of “rope and washer” pumps” can be found on the Internet. Click to view a demonstration pump on the ECHO Farm in N. Fort Myers, FL. Click for smaller “PVC Hand Pumps”.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

James 2000

Various pests, especially snails during the rainy season, make vegetable gardening a challenge. However, as we would like the ECHO Asia office demonstration garden to be as productive as possible year round, we decided to make protective row covers for our garden beds. ECHO Asia intern, James "Tarantula Boy" Manson ( was drafted for the job. Using 1/2 inch PVC pipe and row cover fabric, James constructed five row covers. We're so impressed with James' design that we dubbed it the "James 2000."

Measuring 1.45 meters long, 0.8 m wide and 0.9 m tall to be an exact fit for the beds, the total cost of materials for each unit was 397 Thai baht (US $13.26). Not terribly cheap. However, local materials, such as bamboo for the frame, could be easily used to lower costs.

Our James 2000s are study, lightweight and easy to move. However, they must be anchored to keep strong winds from blowing them over.

In case readers are interested in making their own versions of the James 2000, it is important to allow the mesh to make enough contact with the soil surface in order to be "sealed" with pieces of wood or brick to prevent pests from crawling under the frame. If heavy enough, such items will help keep the row covers from blowing over.

You can see that at least one snail was thwarted from entering a garden bed. Well made row covers can exclude a wide range of pests that are too large to pass through the mesh. On the other hand, pre-existing, resident pests will be confined by the covers. Row covers can also help prevent pollinators from entering; which is either good (if we're trying to prevent cross-pollination) or bad (if our crops need cross-pollination).

James' row covers are well made and we expect them to last at least a few years with minimal maintenance.

New Crop Evaluation

During the USAID-funded Hort CRSP Exploratory Survey that took place in two village clusters in northern Thailand, and another in southwest Cambodia, earlier this year, we came across quite a few interesting crop varieties (mainly vegetables) grown by farm families. The ECHO Asia Seed Bank team selected several of these varieties, such as this black seed, short-pod velvet bean, to evaluate. Our criteria was to focus on crops/varieties that are desirable, rare and/or have reported outstanding traits, such as high productivity and good flavor. Many of these finds have already been planted out in the seed bank plots with data and observations currently being recorded.

Hopefully, this effort will yield more regionally appropriate crops for the ECHO Asia Seed Bank to distribute among our network.