Millions of smallholder farmers in India live on less than $1 per day and own less than two hectares of land. These farmers face low crop yields and can manage to get just one harvest a year. With such meager yields it becomes almost impossible for them to earn enough to work their way out of poverty. This issue is not just restricted to one or two regions but is pervasive in the entire country. Generations have witnessed the same circumstances and passed on the problem, and the poverty to the next generation.
Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches, we may know all the facts and figures about a problem but facing it first hand is entirely different. Amitabha Sadangi, who was born in a family facing the same crisis, personally witnessed the link between water scarcity and poverty very early in life. His parents were marginal farmers in the Ganjam district of Orissa and could sow only one crop a year due to the lack of water. “I had to sell newspapers to fund my education. I kept studying and finished my post-graduation in labour and social welfare. But instead of taking up a government job like most of my classmates, I decided to work in rural development,” says Amitabha.
Determined to help change the fate of farmers, Amitabha started International Development Enterprises India (a non-profit) to respond to the smallholder farmer irrigation needs. And later to carry forward the work conducted by IDEI of over two decades, he facilitated the formation of Global Easy Water Products Limited (GEWP). It is a for-profit social enterprise that markets and distributes affordable drip and sprinkler micro-irrigation products targeted at smallholder farmers. Usage of its products can improve yields by 30-50% and reduce water consumption by approximately 30%, leading to an increase in farm incomes.
Before GEWP, modern irrigation technologies existed but they catered to farmers with larger fields. The smallholder farmers were left with no option but to rely on flood irrigation. And this type of irrigation uses water inefficiently and does not maximize crop yields. Considering agriculture uses over 70 percent of water available, the water for agriculture is declining fast. Given the situation smallholder farmers were and are the first and most deeply to be affected by water shortages.
When GEWP was founded, the smallholder farmers had no previous experience with micro-irrigation. Being completely unaware of its benefits, convincing farmers to spend their scarce money on such products was not a cakewalk. Farmers had never used such a technology before and could not believe that a system that supplies water drop-by-drop could actually lead to successful irrigation & cultivation.
Developing a product that is affordable and customized to smallholder farmer needs and enabling them to overcome their resistance to adopt drip totally giving up on flood irrigation was a mighty challenge which they overcame through creative & innovative promotional activities and farmer meetings. A lot of time and resources were spent on demand stimulation designed to make farmers more aware of the benefits of micro-irrigation – by using different promotional activities such as showing Bollywood-style movies in villages, conducting product demonstrations, and installing demonstration plots – which then generated word-of-mouth publicity.
GEWP’s micro-irrigation products are almost one fifth of the cost of commercially available drip irrigation systems. Breaking the entry barrier of price, they facilitate most efficient use of water for a large number of farmers. Water-soluble fertilizers can also be applied through the micro-irrigation system, resulting in targeted fertilizer application and reduced harm to the environment. With 85% of farmers’ energy requirements going to irrigation, the use of precision irrigation can also reduce farmers’ electricity consumption. All of this allows them to decrease the water consumption and increase their yields. Each user farmer generates $500 as net additional income annually creating more choices present for them.GEWP has a wholesale distribution model where manufacturing is outsourced, and the products are retailed through a network of dealers or institutions. It creates labour for manufacturers and dealers that build, supply, and install the products. It also employs a field force that ensures customer service in issues such as installation and after sales service. They have sold more than 150,000 systems, across 7 states of India.
Wanting to increase the reach of impact of GEWP, they are also doing successful technology transfer to different organizations in different geographies. In 2008, they partnered with a rural development non-profit in Pakistan to facilitate the technology transfer. The resulting company, MicroDrip, now markets and distributes these products to small-scale farmers in the Sindh and Punjab regions of Pakistan.
GEWP’s efforts to increase the yield for smallholder farmers are also supported by Acumen fund. Stay tuned for knowing what drove Acumen to invest in GEWP.