Doing Well By Doing Good: Toro’s Drip Irrigation for Smallholder Farmers
For smallholder farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa, farm productivity and returns are limited by unpredictable and inefficient water delivery to their fields. Drip irrigation is one solution that saves labor, reduces the need for water for irrigation and pumping, saves energy, and improves crop quality. Despite these many benefits, smallholders in many African countries, particularly Zambia, rarely use drip irrigation. The high price and low quality of systems, lack of distribution channels, and limited education and technical support make drip irrigation for small plots difficult to use and afford.
The Toro Company, a US company with more than 40 years of experience developing drip irrigation products for large-scale customers, realized that to be competitive in the global market, it needed to design products suitable for the more than half a billion smallholder farmers worldwide. As a point of entry, Toro targeted the fast-growing Zambian smallholder market. Its challenge was to downsize its drip irrigation products for small plot farms and to establish a local presence and sales distribution channels.
To accomplish this, Toro partnered with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation and iDE, a nonprofit organization with two decades of experience working with Zambian smallholders, to downsize its drip irrigation equipment to a 500-square meter drip kit and commercialize it in the smallholder market. iDE tested the product with farmers to guide modifications for the Toro drip kit, which sells for about $200 USD. Toro priced the kit to make it competitive and affordable but not the least expensive product on the market, since market research revealed that smallholder farmers equate a low price with poor quality.
iDE worked in tandem with Toro by applying its nonprofit tax-free status to facilitate the import and logistics of the Toro drip kits into Zambia, facilitating farmer product testing, and enlisting its extensive networks to promote the Toro-branded drip irrigation package to local suppliers and distributors. This paved the way for Toro to team with private retailer MRI AGRO Zambia Limited to offer the drip kits to smallholders along with quality seed, chemicals, and extension services. Toro has now sold drip kits to more than 100 Zambian smallholder farmers. In addition, MRI AGRO Zambia Limited purchased 500 kits to sell in its agriculture supply shops. To increase its sales, Toro is also working with agricultural extension agents to provide smallholders with education and training on the potential of drip irrigation to improve farm productivity.
According to Eduardo Mendías, senior global development manager for Toro’s micro-irrigation business, “We believe that leading agricultural corporations have a responsibility to make their products relevant to both large and small farmers and to help address global issues such as nutrition, hunger, and poverty. This is good for farmers and good for business.”
Read about a farmer success story with the Toro drip kit on the AgTechXChange.