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All about Drip Irrigation (Download pdf)

Why the poor have dropped out
Although the government of India promotes drip irrigation, the present system only encourages large-scale operations, leaving small farmers out of the picture

Dazed and confused:In the farmer’s

Installing a drip irrigation system with the help of goverment subsidies can be a harrowing experience

Farmer submits
application to ADO/HDO

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Collects eligibility certificate
from ADO/HDO

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Contacts local drip system

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Manufacturer issues
proforma invoice

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Submits proforma invoice to DAO

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DAO sanctions financial aid

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Takes loan from bank

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Pays manufacturer total amount minus subsidy

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Gives copy of receipt to ADO

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ADO sends approval to DAO

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DAO releases subsidy amount to the manufacturer

ADO= Agriculture Development Officer HDO= Horticulture Development Officer DAO = District Agriculture Officer

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.farmer.jpg (8180 bytes)

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.

Government spending
Under India’s 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 government’s 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 more farmer-friendly.

BIS standard certification
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.

Lack of training
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.

Small is beautiful
p69.jpg (8804 bytes)The 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

Pumps: 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.

Filters: Instead of high-tech filtration devices, a cheap filtre, or even a clean piece of cloth, would work just as well.

Laterals: 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.

Microtube coverage

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Drippers: 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 1,140–2,280 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".


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