News / USA

Entrepreneur Helps World's Poor While Turning a Profit

Mechanical engineer Peter Frykman's low-cost irrigation system is designed to improve crop yields for small farmers

Peter Frykman has a working model of his Driptech system in his California office.
Peter Frykman has a working model of his Driptech system in his California office.

Multimedia

Audio
Jan Sluizer

When mechanical engineer Peter Frykman created a low-cost drip-irrigation system designed to improve crop yields for small farmers in India and China, he took a significant step toward achieving his dream of becoming a socially-conscious entrepreneur who makes life better for the world’s poor - while also turning a profit.

As a graduate student at Stanford University, Frykman took a course called ‘Enterpreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability.’ As part of that class, he went to Ethiopia to look for irrigation solutions for small farms. It didn’t take him long to come up with an answer.

Water scarcity

“Drip irrigation was one of the first things that we saw," says Frykman. "These farmers really needed the benefits of drip irrigation - which are water savings and a huge increase in plant yield, but the solutions that were available to them were too expensive and too complicated.”

Peter Frykman, founder of Driptech, a self-described for-profit, social-impact company which produces a drip irrigation system designed to help the small farmers.
Peter Frykman, founder of Driptech, a self-described for-profit, social-impact company which produces a drip irrigation system designed to help the small farmers.

Frykman returned to Stanford wanting to find a solution. He knew that 90 percent of the world’s farmers grow their crops on two hectares or less and water scarcity is a big problem. How the available water was used only made the problem worse.

“What many people don’t realize is that over 50 percent of our fresh water is used for agriculture," he says. "And in some places, like India and China, it can be as high as 90 percent. And that means that it’s basically pumped to the field and just dumped on the field in flood irrigation.”  

Finding a solution

Frykman believed that with efficient irrigation, small-plot farmers could cut their water use while boosting crop output.

So, in 2008, he founded Driptech, a for-profit, social-impact company that produces an inexpensive drip irrigation system. Like large-scale systems, Frykman’s model uses tubing with small holes which delivers water directly to the roots of the plants. The main difference is in how the water is stored and forced into the tubes.

“Most small-plot farmers don’t have high-pressure pumps so our system runs off of gravity pressure" says Frykman. "We can actually run it off of just an elevated tank of water, so it scales down to their needs.”

Sarah Huber, Driptech’s director of business development, just returned from a three-week visit to India and China, the company’s primary markets. She says it’s clear that the irrigation system is having an impact on farmers and the demand for it growing rapidly.

Sarah Huber works with farmers in India who are using the Driptech system.
Sarah Huber works with farmers in India who are using the Driptech system.

Cost effective

“We’ve seen, with our farmers in China, income increase around 50 percent which makes a dramatic difference in their lifestyle," says Huber, "and their ability to pursue other employment opportunities, send their kids to school, get proper health care and we’ve seen some very big impacts there and there’s so many people in China who need this technology.”

According to Huber, Driptech’s system gives small farmers in India a steady income stream because they no longer have to depend on the monsoons for water and can grow year-round, even during the dry season

Driptech sells its product through local partners - agriculture companies or, in China, the government. Its most popular system in India costs about $150 dollars per quarter-hectare.

Frykman says it pays for itself within six months.

Making a difference

The entrepreneur is proud that Driptech has found a way to manufacture its irrigation system in any country where small farmers can use it.

Southern Indian farmers running the Driptech irrigation system
Southern Indian farmers running the Driptech irrigation system

“We can put everything we need for an entire drip irrigation factory into a shipping container, put it anywhere in the world for about $50,000 and that factory would produce enough drip irrigation for thousands of farms per year.”

From a business perspective, Driptech’s greatest accomplishment is developing a low-cost, small-scale irrigation system with few parts, and easy installation. But Frykman believes his company’s greatest success lies in the number of individual farmers whose lives have been improved.

“To sell a product to a farmer who makes a couple dollars a day it has to be perfect," he says. "And the challenge of designing and delivering that type of product is something that’s really exciting and to see that be successful and see that gain momentum is the most exciting thing for me.”

The next step for Frykman’s company is to increase the size of its local team, hire more partners in China and India, explore new markets, and scale up manufacturing to meet growing world-wide demand.

You May Like

Kurdish President: More Needed to Defeat Islamic State

In interview with VOA's Persian Service, Massoud Barzani says peshmerga forces have not received weapons, logistical support needed to successfully fight IS in northern Iraq More

Sierra Leone's Stray Dog Population Doubles During Ebola Crisis

Many dog owners fear their pets could infect them with the virus and have abandoned them, leading to the increase and sparking fears of rabies More

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

New methods for mapping pain in the brain not only validate sufferers of chronic pain but might someday also lead to better treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Paini
X
Shelley Schlender
April 20, 2015 7:03 PM
Pain has a purpose - it can stop you from touching a flame or from walking on a broken leg. As an injury heals, the pain goes away. Usually. But worldwide, one out of every five people suffers from pain that lasts for months and years, leading to lost jobs, depression, and rising despair when medical interventions fail or health experts hint that a pain sufferer is making it up. From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.
Video

Video Hope, Prayer Enter Fight Against S. Africa Xenophobia

South Africa has been swept by disturbing attacks on foreign nationals. Some blame the attacks on a legacy of colonialism, while others say the economy is to blame. Whatever the cause, ordinary South Africans - and South African residents from around the world - say they're praying for the siege of violence to end. Anita Powell reports from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Italy Rescues Migrants After Separate Deadly Capsize Incident

Italy continued its massive search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean Monday for the capsized boat off the coast of Libya that was carrying hundreds of migrants, while at the same time rescuing Syrian migrants from another vessel off the coast of Sicily. Thirteen children were among the 98 Syrian migrants whose boat originated from Turkey on the perilous journey to Europe.
Video

Video New Test Set to Be Game Changer in Eradicating Malaria

The World Health Organization estimates 3.4 billion people are at risk of malaria, with children under the age of five and pregnant women being the most vulnerable. As World Malaria Day approaches (April 25), mortality rates are falling, and a new test -- well into the last stage of trials -- is having positive results in Kenya. Lenny Ruvaga reports for VOA from Nairobi.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.

VOA Blogs