The commercial potential for the private sector to expand drip irrigation technology to smallholder farmers is enormous. The sheer volume of potential smallholder customers and the amount of arable land yet to be irrigated presents an enormous opportunity for companies willing to expand into this market. Drip irrigation also has the potential to be a transformational technology for smallholder producers. It increases on-farm yields, allows for year-round production, reduces pressure on scarce water resources, and reduces waterlogging, salinization, and pest and diseases.
Despite these opportunities, few smallholder farmers use this technology and it has so far failed to reach its commercial potential. Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation recently undertook two studies that explore these factors and help companies thinking of entering smallholder markets with drip irrigation products decide if and where it is viable. One study examines the market for drip irrigation for smallholder farmers in eastern and southern Africa, including the size and characteristics of the smallholder farmer market segment in each country, the enabling environment, and the country-specific opportunities and challenges in commercializing drip irrigation for smallholders. The second study compares Partnering for Innovation’s three partnerships with drip irrigation companies, as well one other commercialization-focused development project. Each of these partnerships had a different approach to commercialization, providing examples of how other companies might design their entry into the smallholder market.
For drip irrigation to be successfully commercialized for smallholder farmers, a number of factors must be taken into account, including the design of the drip irrigation system, government support for importing parts, the availability of finance, and which subset of smallholder farmers is best suited to use drip irrigation. These studies show that there is strong potential for commercializing drip irrigation in certain smallholder segments. Farmers who are producing high value crops at a commercial level are most likely to benefit from drip irrigation. Youth farmers also represent an interesting potential market, since they are more likely to adopt new technologies and practices. But there are some potential barriers as well, such as inconsistent implementation of government policies supporting drip irrigation, challenges in proving the value of drip irrigation to some smallholder farmers, and farmers’ access to credit.
With a growing global population and increasingly unpredictable rainfall, it is more important than ever that farmers have sustainable access to technologies like drip irrigation. These reports share insights that will help companies understand how they can successfully market their products to smallholders, to the benefit of both company and farmer.