A qualitative evaluation conducted in Nicaragua suggests that many of the positive impacts of micro-irrigation technology (MIT) go beyond income generation to also creating positive outcomes in production, water-use efficiency, expense reduction, and women’s empowerment. For example, farmers in Nicaragua who directly purchased drip irrigation from iDEal Tecnologías reported a reduction in their expenses for inputs (i.e., seeds, fertilizer, pesticide, etc.). And “income earnings” reported for some households were actually a result of money saved by producing more for their own consumption and relying less on outside purchase, increasing their resilience to outside events.
In the graph above, we see that, on average, direct and indirect purchasers of drip irrigation sell more of their produce than not, and their primary buyers are local traders and commercial buyers. Over half of the control households did not sell produce to any buyer. This supports the non-monetary, positive impact of drip irrigation that, while differences of income gains are insignificant, farmers who use iDEal drip irrigation systems are more successful at producing beyond self-consumption to sell at market.
Women benefited from access to the technology. By purchasing drip irrigation, female clients reported that they were not only able to contribute more to their households but also that they had become the knowledge holder of drip irrigation technology in the family. This knowledge provided them greater respect and autonomy in decision-making processes within their household.
READ MORE: Empowering Women Through Agriculture
Similar to Vietnam, the study indicated farmers implementing drip irrigation shifted to higher value crops (which benefit from direct water application like MIT) as opposed to staple crops (watered by traditional methods). This could be attributed to the installation and coverage differences between the two methods. Staple crops (i.e., wheat, rice) have multiple plants with little separation between plants, thus making flood irrigation worthwhile. High-value crops (i.e., tomatoes, cucumbers, fruit trees) tend to be single stalk plants spaced some distance apart from each other, favoring the direct placement of drip irrigation lines and emitters that bring water directly to the stalk.
One of the consistent findings for MIT is the need to correctly install and maintain the system for it to be successful. Unlike some technologies that are simple replacements that boost production or capability (e.g., replacing a manually-powered pump with a diesel-powered one, enabling water lift at lower depths), MIT needs to be implemented holistically. A successful solution considers the environment (i.e., field undulation, water access, and location), crop choice, plot scale, and labor availability, among other issues.