Fintrac’s Food Analytics briefing series covers critical topics in global development and food security and draws from research conducted under a number of USAID-funded development projects. This brief highlights lessons learned on introducing drip irrigation technologies to smallholder farmers.

The use of drip irrigation technology has the potential to boost access to water, dramatically improve productivity, and increase incomes for smallholder farmers – but its use by smallholder farmers remains limited for a variety of reasons. This brief explores those reasons and provides five lessons learned for maximizing the provision of drip irrigation to smallholder farmers and draws from Fintrac’s 25 years of experience working directly with smallholder farmers and private sector companies to improve good agricultural practices and commercialize drip irrigation technologies.

The main lessons learned can be categorized into five main topic areas:         

  • Drip irrigation offers smallholder farmers huge potential for income generation
  • Drip irrigation may be better suited for smallholder farmers already engaging in advanced farming practices
  • Smallholder adoption of drip irrigation technology must be tied to longer-term technical support
  • Banks remain reluctant to lend for drip irrigation technologies
  • Despite Drip Kits being generally exempt from VAT payments, drip lines are subject to VAT

Drip irrigation systems specifically designed for smallholder farming have clear benefits. The technology can more than double incomes within the first year of use. Yet, despite these benefits, smallholder adoption of drip irrigation remains limited. From the above lessons learned, we can deduce that drip irrigation systems are likely to be better suited for smallholders with access to more consistent cash flows, such as those producing for high-value or export supply chains over those producing staple crops. Drip irrigation also needs to be tied with ongoing technical assistance to ensure early adopters are successfully maximizing the benefits of the technology and producing food using the entire suite of good agricultural practices.

What has been your experience with the provision of drip irrigation technologies to smallholder farmers? Have you found similar lessons learned? 

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