Resourceful famers are drawing on Afghanistan’s long history of wind technology to develop their own wind-powered water pumps to irrigate their land. But can the DIY wind pumps become commercially viable and solve
Family business: Rasool's son stands beside parts of a new windpump as they are being welded together (Photos: Rahimi)
When Khalifa Muhammad Rahim Rasool saw a fan cooling down a hot room ten years ago, it prompted the image of a wind-pump watering his land in Balkh Province.
Today, as one of a string of local innovators working to harness wind power, the former carpenter and blacksmith runs a small engineering business, building such pumps for local communities.
It started with the sight of the spinning fan during a drought period as Rasool's fruit orchard in the village of Taza Omid was in danger of dying off. With no access to the electricity grid, he put together a large windpump that has not only irrigated his land but created a local trend and market for the towers. In the past eight years he has built numerous large rigs for other farmsteads in the area.
The pumps vary according to the depth of the well and the local wind speed. Rasool’s wind pumps have 20 blades, stand 10 metres high and can be built by three or four workers in a week. They can pump 20 litres of water per minute out of a 30 metre-deep well, allowing there is an average wind speed of 3-4 meters per second. A submerged water pump is directly connected to a wind pump and whenever the wind pump moves, water is pumped from the ground.
The same installations are also used to generate electricity. With a dynamo, a converting generator and small modifications, he says his wind pumps can generate a kilowatt of electricity per month with wind speeds of 3-4 metres per second.
In good company
Rasool wisely does not lay outright claim to the idea. A number of local men now build such pumps, drawing on a rich local history of wind technology to improve agricultural output. Mohammad Ismail is another self-started wind architect.
"With more investment, these wind pumps could drastically improve the agricultural sector."
When Ismail returned from Pakistan after the civil war in Afghanistan in the early nineties, he found the land around his village arid and in desperate need of water. Without a nearby electricity grid, Ismail, a resident of Omid Village of Nahr-e Shahi District, took matters into his own hands.
“The lack of water threatened our village,” Ismail told Afghanistan Today. “There was no source of water in the vicinity, and eventually I solved the dearth on my own,” says Ismail, who without any formal training developed his own prototype wind-powered water pump based on designs he had seen in Pakistan. Now his village has water.
Yet despite the efforts of these local designers and the apparent demand, lack of investment in the sector means such water pumps are not yet available at shops and markets. Rasool, for example, can only afford to make them to order.
Opinion is divided on growth potential
Climbing to success: Once investors grow wise to the potential, such rigs may spring up by their thousands, predict experts.
Abdul Wahab Dilsoz, the administrative director of the Balkh Chamber of Commerce and Industries (BCCI), believes the high costs involved in wind pump production deter potential investors. “Every wind pump costs 2,000 or more dollars and no businessperson is willing to invest in producing them,” he said.
Kateb Shams, head of the provincial Agriculture Department, disagrees. He believes wind powered pumps are on the rise in Afghanistan. “Wind energy to produce electricity, and water agricultural land, is a growing technology and is currently used in several districts of Balkh Province,“ Shams told Afghanistan Today.
A 2010 survey by Tetratech, an engineering consultancy firm, identified at least 20 areas in Afghanistan where wind technology could improve the scant electricity supply and strengthen agricultural output. .
According to the Afghan Energy Information Centre (AEIC), Herat Province has “120 days of very strong winds,” and the government has created a 40 percent subsidised wind energy programme to meet “the basic needs of the people.”
Balkh has similar winds in the summer months when the land is arid and wind pumps could change the face of irrigation. Juma Khan Samad, a professor at the Faculty of Economics of Balkh University, also believes Rasool and his fellow innovators are onto something. “These wind pumps are a very cost efficient way of pumping water,” Samad said. “With more investment, they could drastically improve the agricultural sector.”
“Afghanistan is a land full of intelligent individuals with innovative minds,” Samad added. “We need more inventions like these in our country.”