Improving Economic Conditions For Smallholder Farmers

By Keith Teichmann, Director, Innovative Networks and Marketing, Xylem

Improving Economic Conditions For Smallholder Farmers

Xylem’s Saajhi Stepping Pump was created to significantly enhance the daily operations of rural smallholder farmers across the globe. The Saajhi pump features self-priming diaphragm technology, small overall dimensions, a tilt and transport design, and simplified maintenance to ensure efficient use for all farmers. The design not only makes Saajhi easy to use but also drives sustainability, enabling farmers to use 40 percent less water than traditional furrow irrigation, while producing three times or greater crop yield in revenue compared to rain-fed fields. Additionally, the pump reduces labor time by more than 25 percent for smallholder farmers in rural India, Africa, Pan-Asia and South America.

Who is using it?

Farmers comprise one-third of the global population, with 1.5 billion of the third being smallholder or subsistence farmers. The average smallholder farmer in many countries owns only five acres of land or less within many owning under one acre. Additionally, many do not have the proper tools to produce a sustainable food supply or build a surplus. Xylem, a global water technology company, saw a gap in the water pumps made available to this customer group, and through its Essence of Life (EOL) initiative, created the Saajhi to meet the specific needs of the smallholder farmer. Data from voice of customer interviews conducted prior to product development highlighted that farmers are looking for long lasting pumps that are durable and easy to use. They also value training and support on how to use and repair the product.

The design process

The design process of the Saajhi pump involved a large amount of research. It began with conducting more than 800 interviews in Indian rural farming communities and dozens more in Pan-Asia, Africa and South America. In addition to understanding the needs of the customer, Xylem conducted socio-economic mapping of water use and examined poverty levels relative to water access. These interviews were followed by pretotyping, setting the stage for prototyping and field testing to ensure durability, usability, and a strong focus on human factors design. iDE proved a valuable collaboration partner during many of these activities, supplementing Xylem’s field deployments with their extensive rural engagement and community intimacy.

Quality was another integral part of the pump’s design and construction. The Saajhi is comprised of low carbon steel in areas where structural integrity is needed, and has glass-reinforced polypropylene in high corrosion areas. Extensive testing was done to identify a tolerance of more than three million steps on a single unit, equivalent to more than five years of continuous use, ensuring the product is dependable year after year.

The way users experienced the Saajhi was important in the design process. The pump features a curved handle at 42 inches above the treadles providing maximum comfort for a variety of user heights. With 13.4-inch long paddles users can stand anywhere for comfortable treading, changing their foot positing to maximize ease of treadling for various water depths.

The actual pump portion of the product is a self-priming diaphragm-based system, which eliminates the need to pour water into the pump to prime it – common in other irrigation products. This feature improves efficiency and prevents unnecessary water movement. Diaphragm pumps also experience no friction typically caused by the piston seal moving against the pump wall, making sure it continues to run through even the toughest conditions.

Transportation was a key design feature, since the pump needs to move easily throughout rough terrain, The Saajhi pump features an ergonomic angle-and-wheel combination enabling farmers to transport the pump easily.

Distribution model

Xylem uses a centralized manufacturing model combined with EOL’s unique hybrid value chain that brings together the citizen sector, businesses and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The Saajhi is produced at a 231,200-square foot facility in Baroda, India – the largest pump test facility in the world, lending credibility and reliability to the product.


Xylem identified smallholder farmers’ needs and created the Saajhi Stepping Pump as an answer to those needs. Through innovative partnerships and a drive to deliver the best solution, the EOL initiative is improving the economic mobility of farmers around the world.

Contact details

Keith Teichmann, Director, Innovative Networks and Marketing, Xylem



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