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All about Drip Irrigation (Download pdf)

Rural entrepreneurs
IDE has shown the way. Now small farmers are going a step further and coming up with innovative modifications, that make grassroot level drip irrigation even cheaper and simpler. They are able to set these systems up themselves and quickly get to the point where they are comfortable enough to play around with these. Increasingly, instead of buying the system from dealers, they buy the components directly from manufacturers and assemble it themselves. The cost dips dramatically.

Jivanbhai Jasmat Rabadia is a farmer from Moti Dhanej village in Banaskantha district, Gujarat. He has installed low-cost drip in his brinjal fields by designing his own filter. Instead of buying one from a branded manufacturer for about Rs 1500, he bought material worth Rs 500 to make a similar filter himself. He now makes filters at home and sells them to his friends and neighbours. He has full faith in the drip system he installed himself, especially after getting a higher price for his brinjals since they are of a much better quality than those in the market.

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Rural innovation takes off: Jivanbhai Rabadia (left) with his low cost filter device; Kumarbhai Ram Jaitva and his children (centre) with the movable drip system; a local farmer in Maharashtramakes the most of the tube (right)

Using his one horsepower motor, Kumarbhai Ram Jaitva can only pump water for 15 minutes from his well each day before it goes dry. The only way he can use this water for cultivation is by using the drip system. He has just eight laterals attached to a main line. This can water one bigha of land. Instead of buying a system to cover all his land, he moves the small system along the field after watering each section and manages to cover his eight bighas (about three acres) of groundnut. He does this in the pre-monsoon season after sowing the crop and achieves much better germination this way. So when the rains come, he will have a better harvest.

The magic of Pepsee
Farmers have been carrying out a lot of innovations at the grassroot level to bridge the gap between technology and cost. In some parts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, they have experimented with bicycle tubes for drip irrigation. But these innovations were confined to a limited area and most of them failed to catch on.

In the cotton belt along the Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra border, a low cost grassroots innovation called Pepsee has been popular since 1988-89. They are made from low-density polythene (65-130 microns). At less than half the cost of conventional drip systems, it promises comparable returns.

Local ice-cream sellers fill light density disposable plastics with ice candies known as "Pepsee" in local markets. The plastic is transparent and comes in 20 cm tubes. The candy manufacturers buy these plastics in rolls which are then divided into smaller portions. The cost of the plastic rolls comes to around Rs 50/kg for the manufacturer and Rs 70-75/kg for the farmer. This plastic roll is today being used in place of drip tubes and is placed directly at the root zone of the plants. The entire system is assembled locally. Initially, Pepsee was used for cotton but over the years its use has spread to other crops.

The initial investment required for Pepsee systems is 78 per cent less than for conventional drip systems. The investment required for one acre of land under cotton is as low as Rs 4,000. Pepsee systems are viewed as stepping stones by farmers as with minimal investment, they can try out new technologies. Most farmers who discontinued with the use of Pepsee shifted to micro-tubes or conventional drip systems as they were now more certain about the returns.

A survey of 180 farmers in Maikaal, Madhya Pradesh and Jalgaon, Maharashtra found that the adoption of Pepsee systems leads to a "notional" saving of water of up to 50 per cent compared to conventional irrigation practices. However, this does not translate into real water saving as after irrigating an acre of land using the Pepsee system, a farmer is able to save enough time and water to irrigate 1.2 acres more. Eventually, the water depletion level remains as it was before. This clearly points to the fact that unless these technologies are scaled up, sporadic instances of successful adoption would not help in alleviating the problems of groundwater depletion. The question now is: what might work best in promoting these technologies on a mass-scale?

Shilp Verma
International Water Management Institute (IWMI-Tata),
Anand, Gujarat

Kanabhai Punabhai Parmar in Malia Taluka in Junagadh and his four brothers use IDE’s low-cost drip systems to irrigate their four acres of betel land. Like a lot of other farmers in the area using drip, they have taps on each of the lateral lines running along the rows of crops. They use this to control the amount of water that flows in each line and the uniformity of drops. When water is scarce, they can irrigate the field part by part, to make sure that each plant gets enough water. Apart from saving on the cost of installing a sophisticated pressure regulator, this method also involves personal supervision. This way, they know exactly how the system works.


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