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

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

The studies point to the possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees 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.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More