Butu Seid, Water Pump Maintenance
In 2006, a lot of agro-pastoralists in Genale Kebele, Gorodola Woreda in Guji Zone of Oromia Region were starting to use irrigation for vegetable farming; the challenge of fixing and maintaining the water pumps popped up not so long afterwards, however. Agro-pastoralists had to travel all the way to Negelle or even Shashemene to get their water pumps fixed, spending more than 500 birr on transportation only. Sometimes, if the maintenance took long, their crops could get dry. To avoid loss of crops, some farmers would buy a new water pump, incurring undue expenses. This problem of agro-pastoralists turned Butulala’s attention.
Butulala Seid, a father of six, grew up watching mechanics fix vehicles and he sometimes even lent a hand, handing over tools to them. “Looking at those scruffy boys scuttling around to bring vehicles to life was the moment that I really cherished,” says Butulala with nostalgia. For most of his adult life, however, Butulala was a tailor until he got into the business of water pump maintenance in 2006. Motivated by his childhood love for vehicle maintenance, Butulala decided to try the business of maintaining water pumps, which he observed was becoming a serious problem for a lot of agro-pastoralists. Butulala had to learn the business the hard way. There was no one to guide him nor to observe and learn. It was mainly trial and error. His job was far from efficient, nor could he earn trust from his clients. A year later, however, a training opportunity by USAID-PRIME turned his business around.
In December 2014, PRIME facilitated a 7-day training on water pump maintenance to five people, including Butulala, from Genale Keble. The trainees were selected by the community. When Butula and his friends learned that PRIME was not going to pay them per diem during the training, they were unhappy. “We were used to per diem for trainings. Often, we considered the per diem more important than the training,” says Butulala. Today, Butulala and his friends realize that the training was more than a per diem. It is a life time career that provided Butulala and his friends the necessary knowledge and skills to support themselves for life. Butulala now realizes that he should pay for trainings like this.
Butula describes the training as “an eye-opener”. “The trainers,” he says, “were seasoned professionals”. Butula enjoyed the training and liked the trainers. They learned everything there was to learn about water pumps (both the water part and the engine part). They learned the difference between engines that run with benzene and diesel, and how they are maintained. The training was both theoretical and practical. After learning the different parts of engines, their functions, and how they are maintained, trainees went on practicing maintenance. They dismantled and fixed more than 10 engines to develop their maintenance skills. After the training, all of the trainees were tested on their ability to reassemble engines and diagnose problems before they graduated.
After the training, Butula partnered up with two of the trainees to set up a small maintenance shop. So far, they have fixed about 72 engines in their workshop. They have also fixed additional 20 engines outside of their shop, travelling 20 to 45 km to vegetable farms. Before the training, the zone Water, Mines and Energy Department had brought mechanics from Negelle and other cities to fix water pumps that were out of service. The mechanics fixed some pumps but could not fix about 70 of them. After the training, Butula and his friend have been able to fix 68 of them. Talking about his success, Butula says, “I’m proud of our achievements within such a short time. Above all, I’m so happy that I was able to fix pumps that more experienced mechanics could not fix.” Butula’s work has improved productivity of vegetable farms a lot by enabling farmers water their vegetables regularly. Vegetable farmers have been able to save lots of money and time as well. Without the service in their kebele, they would have been forced to travel to Negelle or other faraway towns such as Shashemene; Getting the engines fixed would take them days, causing damage to vegetables. Today, farmers can get their engines fixed in a day or two without any travel cost or loss of vegetables. Butula and his friends are also reaping the fruits of their labor. Each of them earn about 1200 birr a month, 15 percent of which they put aside for expanding their business. Butula is using this additional income to improve the lives of his family. “There were times when I couldn’t feed my family three times a day, but with this additional income, my children and wife are much better off in terms their nutritional status,” says Butula. He admits that his ambition apart from feeding his family was getting money to spend on “chat”. The training, however, gave him not only knowledge and skills but also aspirations. Today, his dream is to be able to open a spare part store where he could sell stock of spare parts that are in most demand. That would apparently be beneficial to the agro-pastoralists, his community and Butula himself. The challenge, however, is their savings so far are not sufficient to start that business. With a little bit of support they hope to open that spare part store soon.