Driptech’s Radical Affordability for Smallholder Farmers
Drip irrigation has been used by large farms for years. Especially in areas with unreliable rainfall, drip irrigation can provide efficient, year-round access to water. But smallholder farmers, despite being increasingly vulnerable to water shortages due to climate change, have traditionally not had access to this technology. Most systems are designed and priced for large farms and require maintenance and parts that smallholders in remote rural areas cannot access.
To address this challenge, Driptech Inc., an international water technologies company based in Silicon Valley that had previously only sold traditional drip irrigation systems for large-scale farms, developed an affordable, high-quality drip irrigation system designed specifically for smallholder farmers. The key to Driptech’s success is the use of a new, proprietary, low-cost plastic tape, and the fact that it delivers uniform water flow using a patented laser hole-punching process. Its products are specifically designed for low water pressure and do not require complex drip irrigation emitters, which are expensive and often get clogged.
In 2013, Driptech partnered with Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation, a USAID program that develops public private partnerships to commercialize agricultural technologies for smallholder farmers, to begin commercialization of the Instakit, a one-acre drip irrigation kit with pre-assembled components packed neatly into boxes, in India. A pictorial installation manual removes the need for a technical expert during installation, and the provision of all the necessary components reduces the farmer’s dependency on the dealer. The Instakit’s off-the-shelf do it yourself model allows for low product and distribution costs that enable Driptech to reach large numbers of geographically dispersed farmers, and is designed to be exportable to markets far beyond India. In 2014, Driptech released an updated, half-acre system in order to make the kit even more affordable and accessible to smallholder farmers. Instakit Start20 is more convenient and portable than the first version and was designed to reach marginalized farmers across India and sub-Saharan Africa.
Driptech is committed to its mission of reaching smallholder farmers that would normally not have access to drip technology. “Ninety percent of the world’s farmers are small plot, meaning they work on five acres or less. Drip irrigation, which already existed, is the best solution, but everything on the market was too expensive,” says Driptech founder Peter Frykman in Forbes Magazine. “In designing for emerging markets, you have to be excruciatingly sparse.” Driptech’s mantra of “radical affordability” is bringing reliable irrigation to the farmers who need it most, and provides an example of how designing technology specifically for smallholders can have a huge impact.
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