The Sunlight Pump: optimized for smallholders through collaborative partnerships

September 21, 2017
Market Building

Issuing in a new wave of innovation by partnering with academic institutions to develop solar-powered pumps for smallholders.

After the overwhelming success of disseminating over 2 million treadle pumps, iDE began in the mid-2000s to look for the next smallholder equipment revolution. The shift by farmers from treadle pumps to small petrol-powered pumps opened up an opportunity to research a motorized improvement that would be more efficient and affordable for small farmers.

With the assistance of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), iDE helped develop and test solar pumps optimized for the needs of smallholder farmers. One pump involved a design created at the Berne University of Applied Sciences in Bienne, a renowned solar lab that had previously developed a highly efficient solar racing car that won The World Solar Challenge, going 3,000 kilometers across Australia in 1990. iDE began to test this pump in the field in Bangladesh in 1990, and based on the feedback received, the University redesigned the pump, applying principles of human-centered design. New prototypes were then tested in Burkina Faso and Honduras.

An iDE technician in Burkina Faso tests the Sunlight Pump at the Technology Center.

In 2016, the University spun off a company, ennos, to mass produce and mass market the new pump, named the Sunlight Pump, which utilizes a robust progressive cavity pump and electronics that allow for flexible panel configurations between 100 to 500 Watts. The Sunlight Pump was specifically designed for smallholder farmers, with attention focused on making sure that it was user-friendly and highly efficient. At the maximum head of 40 meters, the Sunlight Pump still lifts about 9,000 liters per day with a 400 Watt panel (i.e., a load of 9 tons over 40 meters every day). Ennos has entered into a licensing agreement with Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. for the manufacturing of the Sunlight Pump, and the two companies will work together to market and distribute the pump according to each partner’s strength.

The Sunlight Solar Pump Development Timeline:

  1. 2014 - 2016

    Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC)

    The Sunlight Pump was developed at the University of Applied Sciences in Bienne and supported by Caritas and SDC as a water-saving solution under their Global Water Program Office. The early model prioritized high performance engineering.


    Field tested in Honduras and Burkina Faso

  2. 2016


    Ennos, a Swiss company spun off in 2016 from the Berne University of Applied Sciences, took charge of the production and commercialization of the Sunlight pump.

    ennos Website

  3. Sept 2016

    Jain Irrigation

    Jain Irrigation Systems Ltd. is manufacturing the Sunlight pump under a license agreement with ennos and shares a joint responsibility for marketing in different countries.

In these kinds of development activities, it is important to establish distinct roles and responsibilities for the partnering organizations. For a technology to be successful in small farm situations, the engineers and designers must be flexible to adapt their offerings based on feedback from farmers and on-site testing. The Sunlight Pump was significantly improved and modified to make it more user-friendly and more sturdy for use under harsh field conditions.

iDE and partners bring viable technologies within reach of remote farmers—ensuring that user feedback is an important part of the development and human-centered design principles are observed. By partnering with iDE, inventors can bridge the geographic and cultural divide between smallholder farmers and modern engineering practice.

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