KickStart, a non-proft that promotes technology and entrepreneurism in Africa, was among those honoured at the first Innovation Award for the Empowerment of Women and Girls held recently in Washington D.C.

KickStart develops and markets simple agricultural tools that create business opportunities for Africa's rural poor. Organizers estimate that it has helped lift more than 600,000 people out of poverty since it started in 1991.

Among KickStart's successful innovations are the MoneyMaker Hip Pump and the Mobile Layaway service. The hip pump, designed to be lightweight and low cost, is a simple irrigation tool that allows women farmers to irrigate up to an acre of land even in the dry season, boosting the growth of fruit and vegetables. According to KickStart, more than 190,000 hip pumps have been sold.

The Mobile Layaway service enables poor farmers to pay off the cost of a pump - in installments of their own determination and in their own time - via a mobile phone. This program has been particularly effective in reaching women farmers, who make up more than half of Africa's agricultural workforce.

Presenting the awards, which are sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the Rockefeller Foundation, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised KickStart's innovations for "transforming agriculture for women by harnessing technology and spurring entrepreneurship".

The country manager of Kickstart Tanzania, Anne Atieno Otieno, joined the company in 2004. Since then she has overseen agricultural strategy discussions with the private sector and helped introduce appropriate technologies to help smallholder farmers. After the ceremony in March, Otieno spoke with AllAfrica's Trevor Ballantyne about her company's work and its effect on women and their communities.

How did development of the Moneymaker Hip Pump come about?

We go out to communities and we talk to farmers, both men and women in the villages, telling them about the micro edition pumps and how they can be able to start agro businesses. These are people who are already entrepreneurs, so it is not like we are sensitizing them; they are people who are trying to find ways to make money.

When we meet them in the communities we talk to them about the value of irrigation versus relying on rainfall. Most of them are used to having to wait for the rain. At the time we were working with the Super Moneymaker pump, which is a bigger, more expensive pump. They asked if we could make a low entry pump, which we passed on to our tech deputy and that is how we came up with the Moneymaker Hip Pump.

We had a test market in Tanzania in 2008 and we started selling it in 2009, and it has had very good results, especially with the women. The pilot for this was started in the southern highlands but we are hoping to scale up this project throughout the rest of the country.

What results have you seen?

In our communities, the woman is the one who handles the welfare of the family; the woman is the one who goes to the farm. The woman is the one who does everything, but the men are the ones who have the money. We have seen a bit of turnaround with this, whereby the women have been able to be empowered, not just getting money, but now they are able to give their family better food, healthy food, and they are taking children to school. So it is helping the entire family. You know the saying, 'When you educate a woman, you educate a nation,' but I would like to say, 'When you empower a woman, you empower the whole nation.'

There is a layaway program for women to buy the pumps. Can you tell us about the outcome?

Speaking to the women, and going out into the field and speaking with farmers, we identified a major obstacle - purchasing power, the ability to buy the pump. In Africa, in the field, the pump is a capital item.

They really have to organize themselves to be able to save for it. And so when we were speaking to the farmers, many were asking us, 'Can you come up with a credit facility?' or some system whereby they could purchase the pumps, because many of them wanted the pump but they were not able to afford it. So during that time, there was a lot of thinking around micro credit, and micro savings, but the obstacle around micro credit was not many of the micro-funding institutions were willing to offer unsecured loans to farmers.

So when this lay-away project was started with our Kenya program, it was a good way of getting families to save. But because the turnaround time to save enough was up to 10 months many of them tended to use the money because they had other needs. But this program gives them the opportunity to save the money directly with us and so they save the money in a very short time. The program works through a mobile phone service, MPesa ... so the farmers are able to save money, and send money through that program.