It was an entrepreneurship course during his PhD in Mechanical Engineering at Standford that changed Peter Frykman’s life forever. As a part of the course, Peter visited Ethiopia and had an opportunity to interact with many small plot farmers. Since the course was one that combines business and engineering enabling students to develop products for the bottom of the pyramid, Peter got into a discussion on developing a product for these subsistence farmers in Africa.“During drought time, the drip irrigation products available in the market were expensive. We decided to make it affordable to live on 5 acres or less land. There were products that were cheap but the design made them expensive because they targeted large farms,” shares Peter Frykman, Founder, Driptech.
With the aim to design a similar product with a better design and at an affordable price, Peter started up in his living room doing the first test of the product in his own backyard. Choosing his social enterprise over his education, Peter quit his PhD to work on his startup full time. “When we wanted to test the product, we realized that there are more subsistence farmers in India than in the entire African continent. Hence Drip irrigation is more suitable to India than Africa. The impact was going to be the greatest in India and that’s why we chose India as our target market,” explains Peter. In India, there are over a 100 million small plot farms that are suffering from water scarcity and this segment became their immediate target.
Launching in June 2008, the first pilot project with 15 Indian farmers was undertaken during October 2008 in Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu. The goal was to see if it works in the farms. Driptech’s irrigation system consists of irrigation tubes that are plastic and have precision laser punched holes from one side. This produces a precise small jet of water all the way across the field. Their drip irrigation is the only one system where the water jets are uniform due to the uniform size of the laser punched holes. After the pilot project in India, subsequently Driptech made a deal in China for 200 farms with the Chinese government, apart from the pilot project with Godrej agrobed and some business in Africa.
Driptech’s product costs Rs.10,000 for one acre of installation which is 2 to 5 times less expensive than the other commercial drip irrigation systems in the market. The system lasts for 3-4yrs. The farmers are trained to do the maintenance themselves since they observe when the system is installed. The system is designed for the farmers to get a payback in an average of 6months after their investment. With most of the sales in the months between January to June, much of the marketing is done directly with the customers. They have sale officers who go into the field and sell directly to the customers apart from partner organizations that distribute through networks like ChampionAgro, Agsri. They are also adding more dealers and more partners with the plan to scale up. They also do farmer education throughout the year.
“The business is good during droughts but the challenge is farmers are cautious about investing. There isn’t a consistent response across India for it. We believe that there will be sale because of the drought, we will see growth but it is likely that it will be lower in the year,” shares Peter. Currently, farmers are planting rain fed crops. With the season for drip irrigation (best suited for vegetables, sugarcane and cotton) being the months after the rain fed crop season, Driptech has to overcome the challenge of low investments of farmers in drip irrigation during the dry season that may arise due to the poor harvest during the current sowing season. But the company is pinning its hopes on the cost of their system that might prove to be inexpensive over other drip irrigation systems for the farmers though the farmers are likely to be very prudent about their investments during the current rainfall deficit season.
“The thing that is gratifying for us to see is our drip fed farmers are doing much better because of the investment in the right system. It is sad the others are suffering but we are happy with the farmers working with us. We want to expand and reach out to more farmers,” says Peter. With India being their main farming focus, Driptech’s vision is to help at least a million small farmers in India to make a livelihood with affordable appropriate drip irrigation system.
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