Improving Water Access in India, One Drip at a Time

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By Elena Davert

In India, nearly two-thirds of all small farmers don’t have access to irrigation. Without a reliable source of water, they are forced to depend on unpredictable rains to water their crops, and feed their families.  This lack of water makes farmers reluctant to invest any more of their limited resources in better seeds, fertilizer, or supplies that could increase their yields, but without investing in agricultural development, farmers are unable alleviate poverty and hunger in their communities.

With over 180 research and demonstration sites across India, IDEI has maintained its dedication to producing the most affordable and easily maintained irrigation systems for small farmers. (Photo credit: IDE)

To break this cycle, International Development Enterprises (IDE) has worked to develop and distribute affordable technologies that help farmers harvest water for irrigation and store it for later use. Founded on the principle that, “in technology, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” IDE has reengineered traditional water pumps and irrigation methods in order to better suit the rural areas they are meant to serve.  Over the years, IDE has developed innovative solutions such as a  treadle pump in sub-Saharan Africa and drip irrigation systems in South America (to learn more, read Innovation of the Week: Getting Water to Crops, and Innovation of the week: Slow and Steady Irrigation Wins the Race).

For fifty-year-old Chandrabhaga, who lives in the Sunsgaon village with her husband, son, daughter, and two grand children, lack of water was the main factor hindering the productivity of her small half-hectare farm. For years, Chandrabhaga and her family subsisted on two crops: they would harvest vegetables from August to January, and cotton from June to March. Although they needed a higher income to support the family, they could not afford to plant any more because the water in their small well nearly disappeared every summer after the rainy season.

One day, while working for extra money as a laborer on another farm, Chandrabhaga saw her employer using a new drip system to irrigate his cropsduring the summer.  Although water levels were extremely low, he was able to keep his plants healthy and avoid the growth of unruly weeds.  Although Chandrabhaga dreamed of purchasing a drip system for her own family, she gave up hope when she discovered how expensive many of the commercial systems were.

Thanks to International Development Enterprises India’s (IDEI) dedication to rural outreach, however, Chandrabhaga and her husband were able to watch an IDEI promotional video for a new ADITI (affordable drip irrigation technology intervention) program at anotherfarmer’s house. The video featured the new ADITI drip systems that had specifically designed ‘kits’ for rural families and were up to 80 percent less expensive than conventional drip systems.  Chandrabhaga and her husband were not only able to afford this new ADITI kit for about Rs.1000, they were invited to attend a demonstration meeting conducted by IDEI in order to understand the technology of their new equipment.

In the last two years, Chandrabhaga’s family has made an additional net income of Rs. 7-8 thousand from the increased yields for their ADITI system.  With their increased incomes the family has also bought a TV, two goats and rented an additional  two acres of land where they intend to grow more vegetables and cotton. Increased work opportunities on their own farms has also allowed Chandrabhaga and her daughter in law to stop working as wage laborers and start working on their own farm exclusively. They now proudly refer to the farm as “apna kaam” – their own work – and have benefitted from increased confidence and quality of life.  Chandrabhaga even boasted the satisfaction of being able to feed her family with nutritious food, making sure that the children drink goat milk and eat two vegetable meals every day.

With over 180 research and demonstration sites across India, IDEI has maintained its dedication to producing the most affordable and easily maintained irrigation systems for small farmers.   In addition to constant research to improve their systems and training programs, IDEI have also trained 731 agro-dealers across India to ensure that products and spare parts are available to customers in the most remote rural areas.

Since their founding, IDEI has facilitated sale of more than 295,000 drip irrigation kits, and changed the lives of hundreds of thousands more.  By recognizing access to water as the ‘entry point’ for economic opportunity for these farmers, IDEI continues their mission of helping them open the door.

Elena Davert is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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