31 Dec 2011

Technology Transfer to Colombia


From 1945 – 1980 hundreds of ram pumps have been fabricated and installed by (the big) coffee farmers in Colombia. The ram pumps were of the old over designed model of heavy cast iron and brass valves. A foundry shop in Armenia (a city in the coffee region) fabricated them but ceased operation ten years ago. Many ram pumps stopped operation or were pulled out because of the availability of cheap electricity and electric pumps. Some of these rams have been rescued and are for sale right now. The old models available are more complicated in operation, repair and maintenance than the ones from AIDFI. The pumps from AIDFI are also more efficient and can deliver more water to higher elevations. There is a renewed interest in ram pumps because of high fuel and electricity cost.


Engineer Mauricio Gnecco, who is in appropriate technologies for a long time through a Colombian NGO called Aprotec, has studied the potential of the ram pump for past 15 years. According to him there are huge potentials because there are around 3 million displaced farmers who are coming back to their farms or new areas but who don’t have water/energy infrastructure to live and food production. A second group is the traditional Indian groups, farmers and cattle owners in the Plains who need water during dry season (December – May). Aprotec has identified many places to install ram pumps. Aprotec and in particular Engr. Gnecco is convinced of our working model of the ram and is interested in getting the technology (including manufacturing) transferred. According to Mauricio it would be very good to have an experienced and recognized group like Alternative Indigenous Development Foundation, Inc. (AIDFI) doing the technology transfer. AIDFI is considered a multi awarded world expert in the technology.

The first contacts with Mauricio were through Green Empowerment, an US based NGO which works with local partners around the world to strengthen communities by delivering renewable energy and safe clean water. The concentration had been much on solar and biogas. Green Empowerment arranged for a few small ram project for AIDFI. Both the Green Empowerment founder Michael Royce and Program Manager Michel Maupoux were enthusiastic about the ram pump work of AIDFI. Especially Michel incorporated the ram pump in his workshops on solar when he would conduct them in Ecuador and Nicaragua. It was Mauricio who saw the potential for a re-introduction of the ram pump in Colombia through a new, what we both called ‘sexy model’ compared to the antique looking ram pumps being repaired and refurbished.

It is not related to the technology transfer to Colombia but in Peru I stayed a few days with Michel Hadzich, a professor on the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru where he has a program called GRUPO and a nice demo area on the university compound. Michel has there different ram pump models. GRUPO also installed ram pumps in the field. Michel had an online course on the ram pump in Spanish in which participants build their own small ram pump from fittings and a plastic bottle as air chamber.


After the trip to Peru and Colombia attempts were made to find funds for a technology transfer which we preferred to be done in two stages: complete training in surveying, designing, fabrication and installation of the ram pump in the shop of AIDFI in the Philippines and as second part installation of one or two pilot sites in Colombia. A first attempts to get funding through a contact of Green Empowerment didn’t work out. Then we worked out a website campaign with AKVO in the Netherlands and funding from the Dutch Ministry of Development cooperation (DGIS) through Aqua-for-All. Some Dutch smaller groups also contributed to the campaign and with a budget of just 22,500 Euro we implemented both the training and the pilot sites. The biggest cost was of course the long flights from Colombia to Philippines for a total of four persons.  

We encountered a lot of challenges after the project was approved. An Embassy not cooperating, cancellation of tickets and re-routing. This already had eaten up a (small) part of our much needed budget! Anyway after many delays finally Mauricio and his technician Carlos Gonzalez (expert in windmill fabrication and installation) came from July 7-28, 2011.

It was a relative short but intensive training. Since Mauricio and Carlos had combined everything needed to transfer the knowledge completely and there experience already with other ram pumps for 15 years, there was even time to discuss other technologies. On a note: it is a pity that so much funds go to blablabla, conferences with difficult to pronounce and remember the titles and expensive consultants rather than exchange of technologies between highly committed people who have very rich experiences in both technologies and communities.


In the workshop of AIDFI while the training was ongoing, an AIDFI technician was building an essential oil distiller and Mauricio took interest in it. Developments with this will come back in the story. Mauricio was so excited about our sharing of knowledge and experience that he, knowing our work with pico hydro, offered his knowledge on a propeller turbine. In fact during the training he guided one of our technicians in building one.

The immediate planned piloting in Colombia had to be pushed a little since AIDFI won a Ramon Magsaysay Award (also called Asian version of the Noble Prize) and had to be in Manila for one week.

Then the trip for the piloting was organized for September. Two staff from AIDFI, myself and Ireneo (technician) were supposed to fly out on September 23 but Ireneo had an virus infection on his eyes and this was detected on the airport before boarding. The story of him having red eyes from welding didn’t work out and we had to get our bags back and check in at a pension house in Manila. With the help of a public hospital and the KLM office we rebooked and took a flight on September 27. Also the return was rebooked for us still to complete the planned piloting.

For Ireneo this was a life experience. His connection with AIDFI started in the 1990’s when AIDFI worked with Agrarian Reform Communities. His father became one of our beneficiaries in agricultural and technical projects in the former plantation called San German. In fact AIDFI experimented with a ram pump in the river besides the San German property and irrigated nearby portions of corn and peanut cultivated lands. Later Ireneo, one of the sons of a San German beneficiary started as a helper in the shop of AIDFI. Through practical experience he learned welding, lathing and other shop activities and became a ram pump fabricator and installer. Installing ram pumps already brought him to many different places in the Philippines but he had never been abroad. With purpose AIDFI brings different technicians to international projects (Afghanistan, Nepal and Cambodia).

The area targeted by Mauricio was some 500 kilometers away from Villavicencio, a fast growing town because of oil and gas exploration. One of the piot sites was on a model farm of the Vicariat of Pueto-Cumaribo, initiated by Bishop Roso. The area had a long history of war and disturbances through fights between the FARC rebels and government forces, coca plantations and also the penetration of big companies from Brazil converting to different other agricultural crops after treating the soil against its acidity. The area is actually a huge savanah and very acidic.

Thousands of traditional Indian groups and cattle owners had been driven out and bishop Roso was looking for ways to have people return through the use of other kinds of agricultural production on a smaller scale for the reason that many lands already had been taken over. On the model farm, where seminars, trainings and experiments were organized, there was a nursery for rubber trees for example.  One of the main problems was the acidity and lack of water in the dry season even though there are many streams which can be tapped.  


A presentation and demonstration with the complete miniature set AIDFI had brought along was organized and attended by a mix of Indians and farmers (settlers). Then an installation was built with temporary materials just to show that the system could supply the already in place overhead tanks on the farm. For the AIDFI staff a huge experience. The way to the model farm from Villavicencio was extreme with lots of troubles in passing the mud-road. It took us some 13 hours to reach the place.

We slept in the house of one of the care takers each in a big ‘hamaca colombiana’ (hammock). I found a huge plant which looked to me Lemongrass. The caretaker confirmed this and said that it grows well on the acidic soil of the Llanos. Mauricio and I brainstormed about having found an alternative to cattle growing (each cattle on acidic soil requires big space!). We even discussed that later with bishop Roso whom we visited in Villavicencio. He was equally excited about the idea.

Also we did some night fishing in streams nearby where I catched a fresh water stingray and horse riding after days of work on the ram pump installation. We also moved over the terrain of the model farm (numbering in a few hundred hectares) and saw a newly hastily abandoned coca producing area. On the way to our next pilot site in Tres Matas (center of the coca war) we passed beautifully fenced rancho’s with expensive farm houses and horses. For sure cocaine money was utilized. Colombia ranks third in worldwide coca leaf production with all cultivation being illicit. There is widespread cultivation in the eastern plains region of the Llanos which encompasses about one-half of Colombia.

In Tres Matas we set up a demo site for an elementary school. First we demonstrated the miniature set up to the school kids and then proceeded with the installation of a 1.5“ ram pump. The principal of the school was super happy with the water being delivered. 

Back in Villavicencio I had a presentation on the University to which Mauricio is connected and which was attended by students and faculty members. It was a presentation about technologies for basic needs, work and experiences of AIDFI in the Philippines with technologies and communities, especially with the ram pump.

Also we visited two shops which repair (very) old ram pumps which were in the past produced in Colombia or imported. The owner of a small hardware store in the name of Don Raul Ferretería Guaviare, who sells refurbished ram pumps, was super excited about the complete different looking AIDFI ram pump model.