Scaling Up Productive Water

Evidence from seven years of experimentation and observation scaling micro-irrigation technology in some of the most difficult markets.

Eighty percent of the world’s poor population engage in agriculture for their livelihoods, most of them on plots of land as small as a half-acre. For over three decades, iDE has been creating business opportunities that disseminate resource-smart technology to enable these smallholder farmers to increase their incomes, grow their businesses, and improve their lives.

Irrigation technology, and supporting equipment and services, provides the key to increasing farm production while reducing the impact on the natural environment. From 2009 through 2016, iDE and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) explored how to expand irrigation for small-scale farmers through the practical application of various business models in Central America, Africa, and Asia. This website captures some of the lessons learned in addressing the challenges we encountered, as well as laying out a plan for the future.

Specific insights from the project include:

  • When technology is designed to meet the needs of smallholders, they will invest in it. Drip irrigation packages were being offered at the smallest size (i.e., for home garden plots) and the largest (2,000 square meters), with nothing in between. Farmers need size and price options that meet their specific needs, and further product reconfiguration, research, and development needs to occur.

  • The supply chain has to be in place in order for sales to scale. Challenges to meeting supply, such as tariffs, logistics, and local retailer commitment, can be addressed through example, engagement, and expertise of businesses interested in making an impact.

  • Equipment alone is not the answer. Micro-irrigation requires technical support if it is to be successful. To do so, services should be bundled with each sale.

  • The market potential for corporations to meet the needs of smallholders is billions of dollars. But to unlock that potential requires a substantial investment in reducing the barriers to entry that include distribution costs, market research, access to finance, and technical support.

  • Farmers are reluctant to invest in expanding their production if they have no idea where to sell the increased harvest. By combining equipment sales with produce purchase guarantees in an outgrower model, farmers are more willing to try something new.

  • Because of the challenges in scaling technical sales and service (and thus, achieving cost reductions), governments and bilaterals have a role in developing policy and technical assistance that can help the private sector overcome these hurdles. Microfinance and smart subsidies can help “prime the pump” of the irrigation market.

Solving the market development challenges that have neglected smallholder farmers is an ambitious endeavor that will take decades. Nor is there one, single solution that is a “magic bullet” for the problem. Much of our recent research has provided us new understanding in why something did or didn’t work. Fixing the supply chain, market failures, and knowledge gaps that underlie smallholder agriculture is a long-term mission, however, one that iDE remains committed to.

Within this seven-year timeframe, we were able to accelerate the development of productive applications of drip for small producers in Nicaragua, and introduce newer smallholder drip solutions in Burkina, Honduras, Kygyzstan and Tajikistan. Innovations that are showing progress include our Farm Business Advisor model that resolves last mile distribution and integrated service needs, recent developments with micro-irrigation manufacturers that are bringing options to the market such as solar pumps and varying sizes of drip kits, and the creation of social enterprise to fill the market gap where margins are so thin that it is unattractive for private businesses.

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Program History

  1. Nov. 2009 - Dec. 2013

    Scaling Up Productive Water (SUPW)

    The SDC-funded project “Scaling up Productive Water” aimed at disseminating water efficient micro-irrigation technologies to smallholders by creating markets and supply chains with local retailers for low-pressure and affordable drip irrigation and other water saving technologies. Countries of focus include Nicaragua, Honduras, Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Kyrgyzstan, with planned future expansion to Mexico and Vietnam.

  2. Feb. 2014 - Dec. 2016


    Phase 2 of the SDC-funded project “Scaling up Productive Water” aimed at making the regional programs sustainable and able to grow as well as disseminating and replicating the approach on a global level. Countries of focus include Nicaragua, Honduras, Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

The Scaling Up Productive Water Team

Technology developers. Business model designers. Program leaders.
  • Ide-Team_Quangn
    Quang Nguyen
    Country Director, iDE Vietnam
  • Ide-Team_Trangbui
    Trang Bui
    Program Coordinator, iDE Vietnam
  • Ide-Team_Ryanweber
    Ryan Weber
    Irrigation Engineer, iDE
  • Ide-Team_Nadjas
    Nadja Schäfli-Kraenzlin
    General Manager of iDEal Tecnologías / Country Director, iDE Nicaragua
  • Ide-Team_Markusbrauchli
    Markus Brauchli
    Programme Coordinator, iDE Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan
  • Ide-Team_Laurentstravato
    Laurent Stravato
    Formerly Country Director, iDE Burkina Faso
  • Ide-Team_Ibrahimkoara
    Ibrahim Koara
    Project Manager, iDE Burkina Faso
  • Carlos_Urmeneta
    Carlos Urmeneta
    Country Director, iDE Honduras
  • Ide-Team_Sarahn
    Sarah Nuernberger
    Project Manager
  • Ide-Team_Ursh
    Urs Heierli
    Senior Advisor
  • Ide-Team_Bobn
    Bob Nanes
    Formerly iDE Technology and Innovation Director
  • Ide-Team_Lizzellis
    Lizz Ellis
    Chief Operating Officer, iDE
  • Ide-Team_Stutaylor
    Stu Taylor
    Chief Executive, iDE Canada
  • Ide-Team_Timprewitt
    Tim Prewitt
    Chief Executive Officer, iDE
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