Netafim’s Family Drip System
Even though flood irrigation wastes water, spreads pollution, and causes soil erosion, it is still the most common way of watering crops, yet most agree that drip irrigation is more efficient and effective. Drip irrigation uses less water, results in fewer weeds, reduces plant disease, decreases soil erosion, delivers fertilizer when needed, and generally improves plant productivity. However, few of the world's more than half a billion smallholder farmers have access to drip irrigation.
Most drip irrigation systems are designed for large-scale operations and companies are reluctant to take on the expense and risk of downscaling and marketing systems for smallholder farmers. In order to adopt drip irrigation, farmers do best when they organize into groups, receive training and technical support, and obtain financing to make the initial investment in the equipment. To address these challenges, in 2013 Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation joined forces with the Israeli firm, Netafim, to introduce smallholder appropriate drip irrigation to Kenyan farmers.
Branded the Family Drip System, Netafim’s smallholder kit uses gravity to deliver water and save time and fuel for pumping. The kits are available in 250 and 500 square meter as well as one-acre sizes, along with training and after sales services and starter packages of seeds, fertilizer, and tanks. Farmers who use drip irrigation can extend their growing seasons to take advantage of times when food is scarce and prices for their crops are higher.
Despite drip irrigation’s tremendous potential and returns on investment, making the initial purchase of a drip system is the main barrier for smallholder farmers. Working with Partnering for Innovation, Netafim and its local distributor, Amiran, teamed with an agricultural finance firm to develop a loan program with a grace period and extended payback period, in addition to offering a partial buyback guarantee. To date 10 banks and savings associations, including KCB, the largest commercial bank in Kenya, are participating. Despite customer support and the buyback guarantee, the banks are still reluctant to make loans, approving only 200 to date.
Nevertheless, Netafim and Amiran are forging ahead and seeking other financing options. Netafim is serving the smallholder market worldwide and already sells the Family Drip System to smallholders in Bhutan, Vietnam, Thailand, Niger, Zimbabwe, and India. In fact, drip irrigation in India has added $850 in annual profit for farmers whose average national per capita income is just over $1,000. It may take longer for Netafim to commercialize its Family Drip System in Kenya, but the company is committed to staying in the market. “We feel that this is the future,” says Netafim’s Chief Sustainability Officer, Naty Barak.
Watch a video of Naty Barak discussing the importance of bringing drip irrigation to smallholder farmers here.