Xylem understands that food security and development are impossible without agriculture, and agriculture is impossible without water. This is another example of the interdependencies that exist among the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. We cannot achieve food security and promote sustainable agriculture without providing access to clean water. That’s one of the fundamental reasons that we established Essence of Life, a portfolio of affordable, field-serviceable irrigation systems that meet the needs of farmers in emerging markets.
Essence of Life seeks to empower farmers in the developing world who have been underserved by existing farming innovations. Farmers make up one-third of the world’s population. And 1.5 billion of them are “smallholders,” those who farm their own food and cultivate less than about 5 acres of land. But much of this land — and therefore, farmers’ time and energy — is underutilized due to lack of water access.
Through a “hybrid value chain” concept, Essence of Life is changing this. Hybrid value chains combine the strengths of private businesses and NGOs with government and business partnerships to break down barriers and create new markets.
To develop new products, we conduct extensive field visits, interview hundreds of farmers and establish relationships with key citizen sector organizations in India, Africa, Latin America and Asia. With these partners, we conduct focused technology and product testing. These interactions enable us to zero in on critical consumer needs, realizing the spoken, unspoken and anticipated needs of our rural customers.
Our debut product, the Saajhi stepping pump, was developed following extensive consumer research and attention to optimizing human factors through design, and is designed specifically for the smallholder farmer. Today, in many countries, small plot farmers spend half of their work days carrying buckets of water from the water source to the fields. With the stepping pump, farmers simply operate a dual foot pedal — a motion similar to climbing stairs — to generate a strong flow of water through a hose and spray nozzle. While this is a purposefully simple product — with minimal removable parts and no need for special tools — it represents a first step toward farming mechanization and rural water management.
Our stepping pump cuts irrigation times greatly, eases the physical burden on farmers and makes it easier for them to efficiently apply water. In turn, farmers can achieve higher yields, increased crop rotations and greater resulting income. Most recently, we also launched solar-powered pumps that expand our offering toward increased sustainable development.