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Man Honored for Bettering Lives of the Poor

Man Honored for Bettering Lives of the Poor

Posted - Nov. 23, 2004 at 5:32 p.m.



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John Hollenhorst ReportingHere's a story appropriate for Thanksgiving week. A Logan man has spent his retirement helping put food on the table and bettering the lives of millions of people around the world. And this week, he's being honored for his inventiveness by Scientific American Magazine.

Inventiveness doesn't necessarily mean high-tech space-age razzle-dazzle. Here, on some of the world's poorest farms, inventiveness harnesses simple things. Like foot-power, elbow grease, the power of gravity to drip water slowly toward thirsty plants.

Dr. Jack Keller, U.S.U. Professor Emeritus: “It’s gotta be cheap, it’s gotta be simple, it’s gotta be easy to fix. Because you’re talking about people that are making a dollar a day.”

Jack Keller has spent much of his life worrying about how the world's poorest people can be helped by the world's richest.

Dr. Jack Keller: "You know we spend a lot of money to invent a golf ball that you can hit another two meters. And we spend very little money figuring out how to make low-cost things that will help poor people."

Since his retirement as professor of agricultural engineering, Keller has made many trips to faraway poor places. He helps farmers develop more efficient irrigation in places where they traditionally haul water uphill by hand.

Dr. Jack Keller: "With two buckets of water on their back and dumping it on to irrigate. Now to get a treadle-pump that you pump as a stair stepper with a pipe that takes water up there is a huge labor saving advantage."

Keller works with the non-profit International Development Enterprises. They spread the gospel of foot-powered pumps. Keller personally designed many other devices and systems to store and deliver water. The goal is to raise the poorest farm families above the dollar-a-day poverty line.

An Indian farmer told a translator, that Keller's drip irrigation system doubled his income by making it possible to grow cabbage. "He has made 20,000 rupees out of this cabbage."

Keller and his organization have already transformed about 3 million farms, raising the standard of living for perhaps 20 million people. That means they're about one-tenth of the way to their goal.

Dr. Jack Keller: "And I think this is the best thing to pacify the world. And the fight against terrorism, so-called and everything else, is going to be more solved I think by having people better off, than it's going to be solved by trying to keep them away with guns and stuff."

For his long effort, Scientific American magazine named Jack Keller the Economic Development Research Leader of the year.

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