Increasing productivity of small farmers through micro-irrigation

Flexible micro-irrigation kits enable the judicious use of groundwater in eight Indian states


Small farm holders comprise around 75 percent of India’s farming group, who typically cultivate plots less than a hectare in size and remain trapped in vicious cycle of hunger and poverty. Smallholders by the virtue of dearth of resources remain restricted to rain-fed farming with conventional means of farming thus leading to poor food/income security.

Most development programmes exclude smallholder farmers considering them as too poor to afford modern technologies, and their demand as too fragmented to be served cost-effectively. This indicates towards the need to address issues faced by smallholder farmers. The Water Application Devices (WAD) were designed with an aim to make drip irrigation systems and sprinklers affordable to the most vulnerable section of the farming society. The project extended its roots in the states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Rajasthan and Gujarat, all arid and semi-arid states with erratic rain patterns. Krishak Bandhu, meaning “farmer’s friend”, was the primary programme under which IDEI technologies were promoted.


The programme involved bringing together of the stakeholders from different segments:

a) Farmers: Small and marginal farmers have been the key implementing partners in these activities on the ground.

b) Supply chain members: This supply chain network comprised manufacturers of KB Drip, dealers at village level for selling and village-based mechanics for installing the drip. IDEI facilitated the entire process without any investments or profit drawn by IDEI.

c) Academic and research institutions: IDEI has worked closely with Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, CIPET (Central Institute for Plastic Engineering and Technology) for the trial of technologies and market research. The Energy Research Institute (TERI) has also been a part and helped in conducting studies. Apart from this, IDEI has also collaborated with The Sirugamani Sugar Cane Research Station in Tamil Nadu to assist in the programme.

d) Private organizations: These included EID Parrys (for sugarcane), ITC, ICICI Bank and sugarcane factories in the states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.


The following strategic approaches were adopted under the programme:

1. Customising the product to match the needs of farmers with different land sizes. The product was developed for land sizes of 20 m2, 2000 m2, one acre and above.

2. Appropriate identification of potential locations

3. Adoption of innovative ‘Profit for Progress ’methodology: To create and nurture private sector supply chains engaged in the manufacture and distribution of the technologies at fair prices while incorporating a profit margin for the manufacturers and distributors has been the major objective. With assured access to irrigation, smallholder farmers were empowered to undertake the journey from rain-fed subsistence farming to the remunerative commercial cultivation of marketable crops.

4. Innovative promotional activities: The product was promoted by 1 – 1.5 hour long thematic movies based on agriculture and small farmers.

5. Customised communication: While characteristics of KB Drip were same wherever it is used, each state discovered a couple of additional benefits than the usual list of benefits. For example, farmers in Tamil Nadu favored KB Drip as it reduced labor costs while in Maharashtra it led to the uniformity of produce. Having identified these pivots IDEI customized its communication to highlight these aspects.

The programme was implemented in the following manner:

a) Awareness creation

b) Supply chain establishment

c) Ensuring after-sales services

d) Linking farmers with private partners

e) Conducting research and Development

Since outreach of the technology is highly dependent on its divisibility IDEI developed the smallest unit of 20 m2 to reach out to the landless farmers. Landless farmers typically do not have land for crop cultivation however they have a backyard. IDEI promoted these drip systems amongst the landless farmers who were able to cultivate vegetables in their backyard and enjoy enhanced nutrition. Owing to limited financial resources the farmers started to buy KB Drip for the smallest unit of land and then later
purchased additional KB Drip units as their earnings increased. This way KB Drip broke the entry barrier of the high price for small farmers.

By using KB Drip, water savings were estimated at about 46 percent and 77 percent in sugarcane and banana respectively. In chilli and cotton cultivation the saving was 54 percent and 74 percent respectively. The cost of using technologies developed by IDEI was just about 13.24 percent of the total cost incurred through government efforts and subsidies.

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Amitabha Sadangi
International Development Enterprises (India)

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