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Show, don't tell

Scaling up productive irrigation in Burkina Faso


Noelle Kaboré had to see a drip irrigation system working with her own eyes, at an iDE demonstration farm, to be convinced she should purchase it for her own farm. 

It’s not surprising that rural farmers in Burkina Faso are skeptical about technology. When you tell them that a drip irrigation kit can double the income from their harvest, they have trouble believing you—they’ve never seen that kind of increase in their lives.

iDE Hero Burkina Faso Show Dont Tell

Small droplets of water make their way to the plants’ roots. Drip irrigation is positioned to effectively and efficiently hydrate the plant, increasing productivity and decreasing water waste.

That’s why iDE is pioneering the use of Farm Business Advisors (FBAs) and farm demonstration plots in Burkina Faso under the Productive and Safe Water project, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Over 20,000 farmers have visited these demonstrations so far, and we are starting to change minds—and lives.

Planning and preparation

One of iDE’s FBAs helped Noelle set up her new drip irrigation system. To the untrained eye, her field looked just like a dry patch of dirt. But the FBA knew that if Noelle could deliver little drops of water over time, crops would flourish in that soil.

As a landlocked country in sub-Saharan Africa, Burkina Faso is extremely susceptible to droughts. Its agriculture sector is dominated by small-scale farms producing mostly millet, sorghum, and maize. Overpopulation, overgrazing, and desertification have all led to soil and environmental degradation.

An iDE Farm Business Advisor reviews Noelle’s drip irrigation system. Training farmers on maintenance and repair of systems helps ensure long-term success of drip irrigation installations.

iDE discovered that Burkina Faso clients prefer the small spacing kits (40 cm) rather than ones using large spacing (1 m). We also identified that these farmers have other needs, such as access to quality seed, fertilizers, and water pumping systems. To reach additional farmers, we are implementing our Human-Centered Design process to develop a full package solution that includes support for these additional needs, possibly including a solar pump.

More than just a technology

iDE is using a unique market-based approach to build market demand for drip kits using a private supply chain of local entrepreneurs. These FBAs directly engage with farmers like Noelle, and discuss the potential for increasing yields and the farmer’s income through available technology and additional service support. 

An installed drip irrigation kit and water storage tanks are making a difference for this small-scale farmer.

Some of these services include small group presentations by the FBAs, where farmers can learn concepts like crop diversification and best growing practices to improve their nutrition and food security.

Over the course of the project, surveys have revealed that many farmers had learned that the gravity drip irrigation kit could help reduce their workloads, save time, improve product quality by reducing pests and diseases, and, above all, enhance water efficiency.

When you look at Noelle’s farm now, you see rows of precisely ordered zucchini plants. Looking closer, you can see the thin black strips of irrigation lines that deliver just the right amount of water. Because Noelle is one of the few farmers growing zucchini during the dry season, she receives the highest possible price for her crops. In just one harvest, Noelle’s income went up more than $500, three times as much as she was making before

Partners in impact

iDE is establishing partnerships with governments and other specialized organizations whose objective is to improve the skills of small farmers, women’s groups, or cooperatives to address these market flaws. iDE also creates relationships with relevant private-sector partners, such as Jain and Toro, worldwide leaders in drip irrigation. 

iDE entered Burkina Faso in 2011 to create a sustainable supply chain for drip irrigation kits and other irrigation technologies, and have already facilitated the sale of over 4,000 drip kits to date. The impact has been significant—enabling farmers to plant up to three crop cycles a year—and agricultural production has significantly improved.

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