Trickle-Up Economics, by David Armstrong with Naazneen Karmali

Friday, June 3, 2005

How low-tech, low-cost designs are helping the poorest farmers on Earth grow their way out of poverty.

The famed economist Jeffrey Sachs prescribes classic foreign aid in his recent book, The End of Poverty: hundreds of billions of dollars, overseen by the United Nations and the World Bank, for health clinics, schools, bridges, roads and water supplies.

Then there’s Paul Polak, the 71-year-old founder of a nonprofit group that takes a minimalist approach. His Denver organization, International Development Enterprises, develops and markets low-cost, low-tech irrigation devices–essentially a rudimentary collection of foot pumps, barrels and tubes. “The idea here is the ruthless pursuit of affordability,” says James Patell, a Stanford business school professor who has worked with Polak on designing inexpensive tools.

The litmus test for IDE products: The farmer can recover the cost of the device within one season. “We are firm believers in markets,” Polak says.

Underlying the program is his belief that the basic problem of rural poverty in the developing world boils down to what happens on quarter-acre plots. Of the 1.1 billion people in the world who exist on $1 a day or less, he says, 75% live in rural areas and half eke out fragile livings cultivating small plots of land. Marginally boost their income, and power plants, clinics and schools will follow.
Story found here.

Source: Forbes