Mak graduate innovates off-grid water pump

Matia Ategeka parades his off-grid water pump at Makerere University Innovation Hub. PHOTO | NOELINE NABUKENYA

What you need to know:

  • Matia Ategeka, 27, was unhappy to see his mother and people from his neighbourhood carrying watering cans to and from rivers for irrigation water. The graduate of Bachelor of Science in Water and Irrigation Engineering came up with a off-grid water pump that propels water to gardens without using utility energy.

Makerere University fresh graduate of Bachelor of Science in Water and Irrigation Engineering innovated an off-grid water pump that propels water to the garden without using solar or electricity.

Matia Ategeka, 27, graduated in January during the 74th graduation under the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) at the university’s main campus in Kampala.

Ategeka says the idea of making this water pump was derived from his background in Kabarole District where they find it difficult to get water for irrigation.

“I used to see most people including my mother struggling to carry watering cans from the flowing water sources such as rivers for irrigation water,” Ategeka says.

Ategeka adds that even though water pumps were available on the market most of the families in Kabarole could not afford them.

“Even maintenance and operation costs are high which makes them expensive for a peasant farmer who does not have that much money,” he says.

In addition to the high cost of the water pumps on the market, the young innovator hails from an area where there is no electricity, which informed his innovation that does not use utility energy.

“That is how I came up with the idea to develop a pump that does not require electricity, solar or fuel,” he explains.


Because Kabarole is blessed with natural water sources including rivers and streams, the water engineer looked at how his people could access water from the river.

“Back home residents have a lot of land and they grow crops but they dry up because of drought.” He said.

So when Ategeka joined Makerere University in 2019, he used the opportunity of the available free internet to research on how his dream could come true and bail out the people of Kabarole.

“I started with a water pump that uses a pressure elevation within an enclosed vacuum. But it did not give me what I wanted,” he recalls.

The ambitious man in his second year tried a manual machine that rotates and accesses water from underground. Still the machine did not give him the expected results.

Ategeka conducted further research and in his final year when they were told to choose their final year projects, he presented his proposal to the supervisor but it  was rejected.

“They told me that was a miracle, they had never heard it anywhere, no one had ever done it and they encouraged me to drop it for another project,” he explains.

A penny a day, brings dream closer

Despite the advice he received from the lecturer and peers, he did not give up but instead started saving whatever money he got.

“I intentionally skipped lunch and started saving every penny because I knew no one would help me achieve my dream.  I lost my father and my mother is just a peasant,” he shares.

So whenever he  hit a certain savings target, he would buy a piece of the needed raw material and keep it in his hostel room.

“So, after saving some good money, I requested my sister Dr Olive Tumusiime, who was a lecturer at Kabale University, to top up the balance for me,” Ategeka says of the process.

Unfortunately, Tumusiime who had paid his tuition at university passed away last year in December after falling in the bathroom.

“I then asked my friends to help me in assembling the machine and the rest is history,” he recounts.

They kicked off the journey by fabricating the frame and added the pipes before taking it to a stream in Kanyanya that joins to Kyebando but most people highly doubted and even went ahead to tell Ategeka that he was building castles in the air. This did not faze him.

Luckily, the pump propelled water the way he desired because its capacity was to pump 15 litres per minute and on first attempt, it pumped 14.5 litres per minute giving the innovator efficiency of 95.5 percent.

“We made some adjustments and it pumped the amount of water we wanted which was 15 litres per minute, ahead 10 metres and the horizontal 150 meters,” he says.

After making the magic happen, Ategeka reverted and informed his lecturer who introduced him to an exhibition that was organised by CAES.

“I took the water pump to the exhibition and to my surprise, I was announced the best innovator among engineers. I walked away with the best innovator award of the year 2023 at Makerere University,” he says with a wide smile adding that he  never saw it coming. 

After winning the award

People picked interest in the pump. And the award winner now started representing Makerere University at every exhibition that came by.

Through the exhibitions, Ategeka met important persons including Fukuzawa Hidemoto, the ambassador of Japan to Uganda, Dr Monica Musenero, the minister of Science and Technology at the Kampala Serena Hotel and other dignitaries.

“I even met President Museveni at the  Kololo Independence Grounds and through that, I got my first client from  Rwanda where I was invited to install the pump at a coffee company,” he recounts.

That was the door to his success as more people started sharing his contact and the number of customers increased.

“I am going back to install around 20 more pumps in Rwanda. I have more clients in Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya and South Sudan who are willing to take up my machines,” Ategeka says.

Before installation

Before installing the pump, the engineers first do a survey, visit the site, measure the velocity of water, depth and the elevation (head) and the distance from the source to where you need it.

The quantity of water you need on your farm is also considered and price for this machine goes for an average price of shs2.5 million and the money increase depending on the distance, where the water is located, and the water you need.

How the machine works

The spiral water wheel pump also known as an off-grid water pump is the hydraulic machine that is capable of pumping water from a low elevation (a river, stream or canal) to a higher elevation in the field without using electricity, fuel or solar.

It pumps water by itself by harnessing the power of flowing water. The spiral pump can carry water from the river to fields that are up to 30 meters higher than the river without the use of electricity or fuel.

After installing it in a low elevation, it is driven by gravitational force of the flowing water as it is converting kinetic energy to the pressure required to pump up to the field.


The innovator  started up Mat Water Solutions, a company that deals in water and irrigation engineering, works on green houses, plumbing services, rain water harvesting, and making machines such as coffee and cocoa solar dryers.

The coffee and cocoa solar dryer has the capacity to dry coffee and cocoa fresh from the garden in 24 hours.


Ategeka calls upon the government and well-wishers to support his innovation so that he creates impact and develops the agricultural sector in Uganda through innovations.