The Market for Small-Scale Drip Irrigation in East and Southern Africa

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Drip irrigation can be a transformational technology for smallholder producers. It has many advantages over rainfed production and traditional furrow irrigation methods, such as increased on-farm yields, year-round production, efficient use of scarce water resources, and reductions in waterlogging, salinization, and pest and disease pressures. The commercial potential for the private sector to expand this technology to smallholder farmers is enormous, given the sheer volume of potential customers at the smallholder level, and the area of arable land yet to be irrigated.

Despite these opportunities, drip technology remains woefully underutilized in East and Southern Africa among smallholder farmers, and to date it has failed to reach its commercial potential for both suppliers and users. Estimates suggest that drip technology adoption in many food insecure countries has been negligible or less than 1 percent of total cultivated land.i 

The practical reality is that despite its transformational qualities, drip irrigation may not be commercially viable for all smallholders in all geographic areas for all crops being produced at all times. To expand uptake of the technology, it is necessary for both development partners and private sector suppliers to appropriately target the farmers, regions, and crops that present positive returns on investment, and to address underlying constraints to the sustained adoption of the technology.

Feed the Future Partnering for Innovation has undertaken this research to identify the market segment characteristics which present high potential for the sustained adoption of small-scale drip irrigation in eight countries across East and Southern Africa – including Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. 

Each country is unique in many respects, such as the distribution of land holdings, agro-ecological characteristics, water availability, smallholder target crops, input and output market access, prevailing public sector policies influencing the drip irrigation industry, and priorities of the development community. Recognizing the diversity across and within countries, this research segments the market for drip irrigation to assist private sector distributors and development partners to appropriately target the commercial introduction of the technology. 

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