- AIDFI redesigned an ancient and largely abandoned technology called the ram pump which uses the natural kinetic energy of flowing water from rivers or springs, to push water uphill without the use of gas or electricity, designed and fabricated an essential oil distiller that can process lemongrass into organic oil for industrial users,
- AIDFI has fabricated, installed, and transferred 227 ram pumps that now benefit 184 upland communities in Negros Occidental and other provinces across the country. AIDFI has also brought the ram pump technology to help waterless upland communities in other countries; it is now carrying out complete ram pump technology transfer in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Nepal.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “their collective vision, technological innovations, and partnership practices to make appropriate technologies improve the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor in upland Philippine communities and elsewhere in Asia.”
Building technology to serve the poor is a major challenge in the world today. Technology’s benefits must be brought to people, whatever their status, wherever they are, and in ways they can own and sustain. This is essential to promoting development, addressing poverty, and empowering communities.
For the past fifteen years, a small non-profit organization in the province of Negros Occidental, the Philippines has been addressing precisely this challenge. The Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) is a social enterprise that tackles the problem of rural poverty by designing, fabricating, and promoting environment-friendly technology which is accessible and incomeaugmenting, for the poor.
AIDFI was initially born out of the social turmoil that accompanied the collapse of the sugar industry in Negros during the 1980s. Hundreds of workers and farmers were displaced and the survival of peasant families was severely threatened. In the wake of this crisis, a small group of social activists which included Auke Idzenga, a Dutch marine engineer, decided to form AIDFI to address the basic needs of the affected farmers. Agricultural production and technology development were their initial strategies, but meager funds and the loss of key members forced the organization to close down. When Idzenga returned to Negros in 1997, however, AIDFI was revived, this time with a clearer focus on innovating technology to help poor, rural families.
AIDFI’s first success came when it redesigned an ancient and largely abandoned technology called the ram pump. The ram pump uses the natural kinetic energy of flowing water from rivers or springs, to push water uphill without the use of gas or electricity. As reinvented by AIDFI, the ram pump can lift water to an upland reservoir, with a volume of 1,500 to 72,000 liters of water per day. Partnering with organizations and local governments, AIDFI does not only introduce machinery, but a whole “social package” which includes community consultation, training of village technicians, transfer of ownership of the water system to the community, and the organization of local water associations to manage the water generation and distribution system.
In introducing the ram pump system to upland communities that do not have easy access to water, AIDFI technicians are able to provide clean, cheap water for household use, livestock raising, aquaculture, and small-scale agriculture. Since reinventing the ram pump technology, AIDFI has fabricated, installed, and transferred 227 ram pumps that now benefit 184 upland communities in Negros Occidental and other provinces across the country. AIDFI has also brought the ram pump technology to help waterless upland communities in other countries; it is is now carrying out complete ram pump technology transfer in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Nepal.
AIDFI continues to innovate on technology for the poor. To increase rural incomes, AIDFI has designed and fabricated an essential oil distiller that can process lemongrass into organic oil for industrial users. It transfers this technology to the farmers and provides packaging and marketing support, and a distribution network that now reaches other countries. Going even further, AIDFI has established a “technopark” in their office premises to actually showcase and demonstrate AIDFI-designed technologies that range from cooking and agricultural implements to a biogas plant and a windmill which can generate up to 800 watts of electricity.
In promoting grassroots enterprise, AIDFI has placed the premium on small-scale, accessible, low-maintenance technology that is customized for local needs, energy-efficient, environmentally sound, and one owned and managed by the people themselves. Its struggle to exist as a viable organization has been most trying in both institutional and human terms, but AIDFI has pioneered a way that has already transformed the lives of thousands of rural families.
In electing Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc., to receive the 2011 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes their collective vision, technological innovations, and partnership practices to make appropriate technologies improve the lives and livelihoods of the rural poor in upland Philippine communities and elsewhere in Asia.
Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow Awardees and friends.
It’s a great honor for me and the Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation to be here on the stage receiving Asia’s most prestigious award. It’s a crown on the hard work done by mostly silent heroes who come from the grassroots. We are very thankful to the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for selecting us. This award will help spread our organization’s work faster. May I request all my colleagues to stand up and share the spotlight and then be fully energized.
For AIDFI this means developing the rural communities or, rather, cultivating communities. Young people in the uplands are losing interest in farming because of its low status. But with our essential oil project right in the middle of the mountains, we have proven that with innovative technologies and techniques beneficiaries feel proud and start cooperating again, a value long lost because of the need for economic survival. For these kinds of projects we need decentralized access to water and energy, preferably renewable energy. These require machines, which can be produced locally and lead to industrialization.
The AIDFI ram pump model is our flagship, and the only technology we have successfully elevated out of the pioneering stage. Now we have installation teams all over the country. We are also carrying out technology transfer to other countries: Afghanistan, Colombia and Nepal, with more to come. We have exported some ram pumps to Malaysia and Japan as well.
We believe our success is due to our passion, drive, consistency and hard work. All this despite the absence of government support. All our technologies could spin off into small factories or enterprises that can help provide basic needs and create employment in rural communities.
Development work is not easy at all in the Philippines context. Everything is strangled by politics.
Lately we encountered how a mishandled agrarian reform case of one member of our essential oil project resulted in the complete blockage of the factory, depriving 25 cooperative members of their livelihood for months. In defending this case I have also been called a troublemaker, received a Petition non Grata, even called a terrorist by a regional government official.
We in AIDFI have felt the fresh wind of this new government especially at the top. We have seen the serious concern of the agrarian reform secretary for our case. At the same time the Land Bank and the Department of Agriculture have shown serious interest in adapting our ram pump for irrigation. But we know it is still a long way to get this seriousness down to the lowest levels. National government cannot do this alone; strong cooperation with the academe and NGOs, among others, is vital. Government has the resources and NGOs like AIDFI have the grassroots connections, the passion and drive to work with the poor.
We also should rethink and see the opportunities in the uplands, areas long neglected. Unless we do this, the late Bishop Fortich, himself a Magsaysay awardee, warned, “the social volcano is going to burst.” My fondest hope is that our government will create an environment in which programs like ours can thrive. With the Filipinos’ great ability, the Philippines’ tremendous potentials, and strong cooperation among stakeholders, we can be a great nation.
And don’t worry. Despite the difficulties, AIDFI and I will remain at the service of the poor from the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia.