• Credit: PROJECT41

In Africa, a swimming pool pump can be the difference between feast and famine.

The P41 Rainmaker, a human-powered irrigation system, is bringing critical relief to small-scale farmers in the developing world, and the pool industry is rallying to make the product widely available.

The system draws water from a nearby source via a pool pump powered by a person pedaling a free-standing bicycle. That may sound arduous, but it’s more efficient than transporting buckets between a river and crops that may be quarter of a mile away.

The Tri-Valley chapter of the Independent Pool & Spa Service Association’s California Bay Area collected several hundred used pumps last year. Likewise, Pentair Aquatic Systems donated nearly 500 new pumps toward the cause.

The outpouring of support is notable because service technicians typically use old pumps for parts, refurbish them, or sell them for scrap metal, said David Goulart, IPSSA chapter president.

“Even members who I thought [wouldn’t have participated] said, ‘Oh my gosh, how do I sign up?’” added Goulart, who is owner of Aqua Hero, in Livermore, Calif.

The Tri-Valley Chapter also has kicked in several thousand dollars to help offset the nonprofit’s operating costs. Pumps are delivered in shipping containers, which can be expensive, plus there’s the cost of materials for the steel bicycle stands.

Project41 is the organization behind the P41 Rainmaker. Its goal is to “develop tools that empower the poor to lift themselves out of poverty.” Director Andy Pierce was volunteering at an orphanage in Haiti where one small hand pump, drawing about 5 gallons a minute from a rain-capture system, had to meet the needs of 40 girls. A plumber by trade, Pierce began brainstorming solutions.

“I started researching and saw a couple of examples of people utilizing a bicycle to power a small centrifugal pump,” Pierce said. That got his wheels turning, so to speak.

“So I thought, what could a person on a bicycle do with a large-capacity, one- horsepower swimming pool pump?”

He rigged something up and found that the pedal-powered pool pump delivered about 50 gallons a minute. The device was installed at a health center in Uganda, but it became apparent to Pierce and Jim Stunkel, vice president of project management, that the Rainmaker also could be used for agricultural purposes.

Eventually he connected with Pentair President Karl Fykman. The manufacturer’s assistance, along with motor maker Regal Beloit, gave many subsistence farmers a means to pedal themselves out of poverty.

“Everyone in that whole organization has just been stellar,” Pierce said.

Not only does the Rainmaker provide food security, but it may be a tool for economic development. Because they are now able to grow more than enough to nourish their families, farmers can sell any remaining produce at the market. Project41 estimates that with the use of the Rainmaker, farmers are realizing 700 percent increases in their yearly incomes.