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Inventor of inexpensive water pump wins Lemelson award

African farmers are pulling water out of the ground with a tool called the SuperMoneyMaker, which won its inventor $100,000 for sustainability.

The SuperMoneyMaker Pump sounds like something that Billy Mays might offer on cable TV, but it's an agricultural tool that's encouraging economic sustainability in Africa.

The device, which won Martin Fisher the $100,000 Lemelson-MIT award for sustainability, can pull water 30 feet below, in a well, and then push it through a pipe to irrigate two acres of land.

The idea is to allow farmers to grow crops continuously throughout the year, rather than concentrate on a single, seasonal crop. Potentially, the pump enables land to be used more efficiently and lets farmers grow more food.

Shake your SuperMoneyMaker. Lemelson-MIT

The pump sells for about $100, but users can earn about $1,000 a year with it, according to KickStart, a nonprofit organization formed by Fisher. In all, 62,000 farmers in these nations use MoneyMaker pumps.

Fisher has also invented a device called the Hip Pump. Selling for around $35, the Hip Pump lets farmers get water out of the ground by leveraging their body weight. More than 4,300 farmers in Mali, Kenya, and Tanzania already use the Hip Pump.

Water, is perhaps, the first casualty of global warming. Several African nations, plus China and Australia, are already experiencing water shortages. Depleting ground water can exacerbate the situation, but Africa is also facing crop problems.

The Lemelson-MIT Awards are given annually to various inventors. The foundation was created by Jerome Lemelson, who was a controversial patent holder during his life. The history of the so-called "Lemelson patents" prompted changes in U.S. patent laws.