In the late 1980’s after launching IDE, I knew we had a big problem. We were convinced that treadle pumps, a simple $25 StairMaster device that could earn a net income of $100 a year or more for one-acre farmers could make a huge impact in Bangladesh. And we knew that market forces were the best way to bring them to scale. But how could we put
them in the hands of millions of small farmers?
We started out by energizing a private sector network of 75 small manufacturers, 2500 village dealers, and 3,000 village well drillers who we trained a three day course with a paper diploma. None of these small rural enterprises could survive without reaching a threshold volume of sales. And nobody in rural villages had heard anything about the treadle pump- it was like a politician with no name recognition.
The first thing we tried was hiring wandering troubadours, were common in rural Bangladesh. They wrote songs about the treadle pump, and performed at farmers’ markets and festivals, where our customers gathered. While the others sang their song and played their musical instruments, one member of the troupe operated a re-circulating demonstration pump, and another handed out pamphlets saying, you want to buy a treadle pump go to Honest Sam the dealer.”
But this didn’t reach the large number of potential customers we were looking for.
So we decided to make a Bollywood Movie about the treadle pump We hired Mrinal Sarkar, who was working for a commercial marketing firm in Dhaka, and he put together a list of the key messages we wanted to communicate about the treadle pump to small farmers. To make a 90 minute Bollywood movie, we hired the top movie director in Bangladesh, the top male lead, and the top female lead, at a total cost of $25,000.
A typical Bollywood movie in Bangladesh has a wedding, a funeral, a near suicide, and lots of singing and dancing. The plot for the first movie was boy meets girl, (lots of singing and dancing) but they can’t get married because her father
is too poor to come up with a dowry. So she falls into the clutches of a dowry bandit (near suicide, more singing and dancing). As the movie nears its climax, the movie suddenly stops. Its intermission time! Now local dealers put
the potential customers they have invited on re-circulating treadle pumps, so they can get the
touch and feel of them.
When the movie resumes, the father meets an old friend, who tells him about the Treadle Pump! So he buys one, earns enough to pay the dowry, and they get married and live happily ever after. It sounds a little hokey, but this movie played to an audience million customers a year. We used a mobile video-van with a generator. With publicity from village dealers and a Barnum and Bailey rickshaw procession with loudspeakers blaring before the show, two to five thousand people showed up at each open-air performance.
Remember, most of our customers couldn’t read or write, and had no access to mass media. The Bollywood movie was a major contributor to IDE’s success in convincing and one and a half million families in rural Bangladesh to buy and use a treadle pump.
Since then, treadle pumps quickly spread to many countries, including India, Nepal, Myanmar, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, and Zambia. Well over two and a half million habeen bought by very poor farmers and used to increase their net annual income by more than $250 million a year!
The happy use of Bollywood movies to inform small farmers lives on.
Amitabha Sadangi and the excellent staff of IDE India continue to produce and show them with great success.
Take a look at the highly compressed three minute segment of Lakshmi, a real tear-jerker about a poor family in India who didn’t have enough to eat because their land has no water. Their youngest daughter just about dies from cholera because they have no money for food and Medicinesut the older daughter saves the day. She goes to work at a prosperous farm that uses IDE India’s Krishak Bandhu low cost drip system, brings it back to her family’s farm, and
rapidly transforms her family from paupers into prosperous happy farmers who joyfully sing and dance!