Why the poor have
Although the government of India promotes
drip irrigation, the present system only encourages large-scale operations, leaving small
farmers out of the picture
and confused:In the farmers
Installing a drip irrigation system with the help of goverment subsidies can be a
application to ADO/HDO
Contacts local drip
invoice to DAO
Takes loan from bank
total amount minus subsidy
Gives copy of
receipt to ADO
ADO sends approval
DAO releases subsidy
amount to the manufacturer
Development Officer HDO= Horticulture Development Officer DAO = District Agriculture
While drip irrigation is a solution to
many farmers woes, the greatest barrier to its widespread use has been high capital
costs, ranging from Rs 20,000 to 40,000 per hectare. The government of India has been
promoting drip by encouraging private sector manufacturers, spreading awareness through
the Directorate of Horticulture/Agriculture that is the implementing agency, and by
putting in place a subsidy system, which is to be phased out over a period of time.
Today there are over 75 companies in India manufacturing and
selling drip irrigation systems. The biggest manufacturer, Jain Irrigation Systems, has
captured about 60 per cent of the Rs 200 crore-plus market. Netafim, an Israeli company,
has also made major inroads in the Indian market. In accordance with government
regulations, foreign groups need to set up a production facility in the country within two
years of entry. As a result they get into joint ventures with established Indian
companies. Israeli companies have the maximum number of such partners in India. Firms from
Germany, the US and Australia are also doing well.
Under Indias Eighth Five Year Plan (1992-97), an outlay of Rs 250 crores was
approved for minor irrigation, out of which about Rs 200 crores went towards drip. At the
time the subsidy in cost was 90 per cent for small, women and Scheduled Caste/Scheduled
Tribe (SC/ST) farmers while larger farmers got a 75 per cent cut. In the Ninth Plan, an
outlay of Rs 375 crores included about Rs 300 crores for drip, and the subsidy levels were
50 per cent for small, women and SC/ST farmers and 35 per cent for the rest. In the last
Five Year Plan, the subsidy has been reduced to 25 per cent for all categories of farmers.
Based on the governments estimates on how much a drip system costs, a maximum
ceiling amount is established for the subsidy given.
Flaws in the system
How efficient is the present system? Does it help the small
farmers at all? Perhaps not.
Credit comes in trickles
The subsidy system breeds corruption and tends to benefit
the least needy, according to Amitabha Sadangi of the International Development
Enterprises (IDE), a non-governmental organisation (NGO) promoting low-cost drip systems.
The process involves a huge amount of paperwork, with government approval needed at each
stage before the money can be released. An employee of Jain Irrigation Systems admits,
"One needs to keep a margin for all the bribes that need to be paid in order to get
this done. This accounts for a good 20 25 per cent of the cost. In fact we often
encourage farmers to buy directly from us instead of taking a subsidy. In this case we can
offer him a 25 per cent discount, which is the amount of subsidy available now." He
goes on to explain the readiness of the manufacturers to bypass the subsidy system:
"Since it could take up to a year or more to get the subsidy amount, manufacturers
have lakhs of rupees blocked in the process." The only way to make up for this is by
including the interest lost in the total cost of the equipment. This is why, for example,
a 16 mm drip lateral, or pipe, is priced at Rs 5 per meter whereas it can be bought for Rs
3 on the open market. A crucial component, these pipes are needed in large amounts, making
this difference in price considerable.
In the view of Apoorva Oza, CEO of the
Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP), which has been encouraging the use of drip in
its projects in Gujarat, it is in fact subsidies that are preventing the costs from coming
down. Since they are getting an assured amount from the government, there is little
incentive for manufacturers to innovate or explore ways to make the system cheaper and
Lack of training
Only those systems that have Bureau of Indian Standards
(BIS) certification are subsidised as the manufacturer has to register with the
government. These standards focus on the precise shape and volume of the components
required for large farms. However, such standards are not required for small plots. Also,
the certified products of many small manufacturers lured into the market by the large
subsidies are often not really up to the mark, having been certified after proper monetary
"encouragement" was provided. This also adds to the ultimate market price.
Farmers need a certain degree of skill to operate and
maintain the system. The dealers are supposed to install the system and follow up with the
farmer, but this rarely happens. This means that the rate of failure among most farmers
who have not been able to maintain and manage the system is high. Villages are often
remote and inaccessible, and dealers do not always go through the trouble of visiting
their customers, especially after payment has already been made. This system can still
work for educated, rich farmers who have large plots of 5-10 acres. But for the majority
of small farmers who are illiterate, this investment is out of question.
costly, sophisticated system that the Indian government promotes today is out of sync with
the needs of small farmers. According to government statistics, more than 78 per cent of
Indian farmers are marginal or small-scale operators cultivating plots of around one
hectare divided into five separate plots ranging from 0.1 to 0.2 hectares. However, the
largest manufacturer of drip systems in India, Jain Irrigation Systems, does not sell a
system appropriate for plots of less than 0.4 hectares. In fact, the components of a drip
system are optimised for plots of four hectares or more.
Since its commercial acceptance in the
1970s, the technology used in drip systems has evolved to fit large fields and minimise
labour requirements. As a result, the standard system that is available is sophisticated
and expensive. The number of components in the system are not required in a small plot.
More than 78
per cent of Indian farmers operate on a small scale, cultivating plots of around one ha
In small-scale operations, pumps are not always necessary. Elevating a reservoir a few
metres above land is enough to create a good pressure for pushing the water through the
pipes and laterals.
Instead of high-tech filtration devices, a cheap filtre, or even a clean piece of
cloth, would work just as well.
The prescribed thickness of the pipes depends on the amount of pressure that is regulated.
This, again, is not of crucial concern in small plots. In addition, each lateral serves
only one row whereas microtubes could enable them to bring water to two to four rows. The
number of laterals, an expensive component, can be halved in this way.
Much of the added costs are incurred in attempting to ensure uniform application of
water throughout a field. As a result, drippers pressure regulated emitters
tend to be more sophisticated and costly. These emitters are also designed to be compact
so as not to interfere with mechanised cultivation and are more expensive. In small
fields, micro-tubes can be used as drippers. There is less clogging, and enough labour to
cultivate around the micro-tubes and periodically inspect and clean them. Micro-tubes,
however, have been discarded by the scientific community in India in favour of greater
automation. "The focus was on developing the technology the Israeli way, getting more
costly and sophisticated, moving towards
computerisation. The conditions in India
are better served by the micro-tube that can be used in small farms and kitchen
gardens", says J N Rai of IDE. The cost difference is huge: Rs 2 to 4 for a high tech
dripper as compared to 50 p per meter (30cm is the average length) for a micro-tube. In a
small field needing 57 drippers a row in 10 rows, this would come to a total of Rs 95 for
micro-tubes as opposed to Rs 1,1402,280 for pressure-regulated emittors.
A conventional drip system requires an
engineer to install, leaving most illiterate farmers out of the process. "The system
needs to be technically less esoteric," says Apoorva Oza. Instead of alienating a
farmer, "it should be demystified and simplified; it works better if a farmer can set
it up and manage it himself".