Response from Dr. Heston

The following is the email response from Dr.Heston (our Cal Poly resource for this project) regarding the response from David Dyer (Agbokpa community member).

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I am happy to see that you are truly thinking about development in a way that you should! How a project can actually serve the needs and desires of a community. And, if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be done! Several comments:

1. As I have said to you before, you also have to consider your gain (or the gain for someone starting the buisiness) in the situation. If you don’t gain from the project, you have no motivation to do it. Development through pity and gifts doesn’t work. A man from the US giving away mosquito nets puts a Ghanaian man selling mosquito nets out of business. Please take the time to investigate Bill Gates speech on “Creative Capitalism” made at the 2008 World Economic Forum. In 2013 we brought a number of MIT faculty and some MIT grad students to the farm for a conference and they made the mistake of getting a wish list of free things the people from the community wanted, free health care, free water, free electricity a road to the village, etc. This led the community to expect someone to give them these things. That is why you are asking what they would want to buy and not what they would want.

In reading David’s response I think he points out several important things to you. He says that people typically farm 1-2 acre plots. These are inland farms typically including tuber crops (mostly yam and casava) which require little attention and no irrigation/watering, called dry-field or rain-fed farming. Some of the large villager farms may indeed reach two acres, but most are smaller. These are used to produce low value crops. An alternative is farming cash crops which require more attention, like fruits and vegetables. These sell at high prices in Ghana. But David brought up a another good point and that is that the villagers want to buy access to electricity.

2. One might come to the conclusion that we should build a mini solar power plant and sell electricity or access. Unfortunately, this is not possible because electricity is a heavily regulated commodity. We can’t do this legally. I made several attempts to move toward grants and was in communication with the Eastern Region’s director of Ghana’s National electricity company. Ghana has an electricity company has been in a major crisis ( ). This and most villages are so far off-grid that they will be so for many many years. Whit Alexander’s company Burro is targeting these markets with his solar and rechargable battery products, but frankly he sells these everywhere because even in the developed cities the electricity is out most hours of the day.

3. So, back to the village of Agbokpa. Clean water is something you could sell. However, Agbokpafou (ppl of Agbokpa) have access to purchase 1/5 liter purified bags of water. I was friends with a Ph.D student fom Cambridge while I was in Ghana. She lived with a friend for some time in Ghana developing a water purification system. The pump system used diesel power to bring water from the lake to the village, then the water entered a large holding tank, then the passed back and forth through a large densely packed sand corridor and came out much purified at the other end. This cost about $10,000. It was a gift system built in 2011. In 2013 it was no longer in use. The village didn’t have a sustainable plan for buying the diesel to run the pump….that is a cautionary tail for you. What will last is something that someone like David can run and sell…. The purified water market is a thriving market filled with water truck deliveries to almost every town and bags of purified water can be bought cheaply everywhere in Ghana, including agbokpa( It comes across the lake in large plastic bags. This thriving market also produces a huge amount of plastic bag waste which doesn’t get recycled. (As a side note another buisiness idea I had was to pay for the collection of this waste that was everywhere and shred with to create insulation for buildings. We do a similar thing with shredded newspaper in construction on the east coast, but that is another story.) You can’t sell purified water. The market is established and good.

So could you deliver a system which delivers irrigation water, gives access to electricity, and still pays you? In installing a pumping system for water you have access to water, the solar power gives you access to electricity in a place that doesn’t have it. If you had an elevated holding tank or pond you could purify water through a gravity fed percolation system or a filtration system. You can’t sell purified drinking water, but maybe you could sell cleaner water, and cleaner water for crops is also a good thing as parasites and diseases also hurt crops and animals in Ghana. You can’t install electric lines and sell the electricity, but you could have available onsite plugs to “members.” You could also sell or rent charged batteries. This is Whit’s early business model ( My take on this is that by providing irrigated gardens, fish farming potential, chicken farming potential you also help your customers make money to pay you for the things they want and need. Essentially you are selling jobs. If David was running this he would be bringing the expertise to run the solar system and maintain the pumping. The value for the customers is that they have irrigated plots to grow high value crops with the potential to also vertically integrate into fish farming and chicken farming. The fish and chicken produce fertilizer that makes soil and water have greater nutrient content for vegetable farming.


Dr. Heston