06 Dec 2018 | 08:27 PM | Abhishek Chatterji
In a country of unique problems, the solutions cannot be convened. Netafim Irrigation realized this when it pondered over the problem of how to provide drip irrigation to small Indian farms. Six months ago, the wholly owned subsidiary of Israel-based Netafim, the world’s largest micro-irrigation company, indigenized its Family Drip System (FPS) for mainstream farming in India. As a result, drip irrigation is now available for farms that are as small as a quarter acre.
FPS was originally developed for irrigating the backyard gardens in developed countries. Netafim itself had, till then, catered mostly to large farms of a few thousand acres. The budgets for these systems were large, and so was the incremental produce that farmers could get by adopting such systems. But that began to change when Netafim set up its own subsidiary in India in 1997. For the purposes of drip irrigation, India’s farm needs were different from most other countries in two significant ways.
First, even some of the largest farms in India would be considered medium-sized or even smaller in most developed countries. Most drip irrigation systems that were available in India were for a landholding of one acre. The small size of the farms immediately translated into a design constraint. Small farmers could not afford the expensive drip irrigation systems.
Second, electricity was not always available to many farms. To irrigate a farm using drip irrigation systems normally requires a continuous power supply for three to four hours. Most Indian villages did not have this luxury.
Drip irrigation is most suitable for row crops (vegetables, soft fruit), tree and vine crops where one or more emitters can be provided for each plant. Generally, only high-value crops are considered because of the high capital costs of installing a drip system.
Drip irrigation is adaptable to any farm able slope. Normally the crop would be planted along contour lines and the water supply pipes (laterals) would be laid along the contour also. This is done to minimize changes in emitter discharge as a result of land elevation changes.
Drip irrigation is suitable for most soils. On clay soils, water must be applied slowly to avoid surface water ponding and runoff. On sandy soils, higher emitter discharge rates will be needed to ensure adequate lateral wetting of the soil.
Note: One thing to be noted here is that the emitters have very small waterways ranging from 0.2-2.0 mm in diameter and these can become blocked if the water is not clean. Thus it is essential for irrigation water to be free of sediments. If this is not so then filtration of the irrigation water will be needed.
The blockage may also occur if the water contains algae, fertilizer deposits and dissolved chemicals which precipitate such as calcium and iron. Filtration may remove some of the materials but the problem may be complex to solve and requires an experienced engineer or consultation with the equipment dealer.
Drip Irrigation in India
Indian agriculture scenario is very different from the advanced economies. The major roadblock for conventional drip irrigation system in India is the small size of farms. The much international company faces this challenge when they decided to enter India. Another challenge is of availability of electricity in the villages.
Due to the small size of farms drip, irrigation would not be economically viable for the small farmers. So most of the companies came up with new approaches that are specifically designed for small and marginal farmers.
One company Netafim, indigenized its Family Drip System (FPS) for mainstream farming in India. The wholly owned subsidiary of Israel-based Netafim, the world’s largest micro-irrigation company. Similarly other companies both national and international came up with solutions unique to India. The Indian government also provide financial assistance to farmers to adopt drip irrigation system.
Some major player in drip irrigation in India is Jain Irrigation, Netafim, and Driptech. They provide installation assistance along with after sale service.
Drip Irrigation Cost in India
Installation cost depends on various factor such as the type of soil, terrain, crop, sowing pattern, seed quality etc. “For a farmer wants to install drip irrigation for saying orange farming in which plants are 3 meters apart it will cost him about Rs. 55,000 per acre. For crops or plants which are planted in 6X6 pattern drip irrigation cost only about Rs. 35,000 per acre.” said SK Pal of Jain Irrigation.
Monsoon in India is unpredictable and last 4-5 years rainfall is below average. Also ground water level in many parts of the country is dangerously low because of overutilization. It is now necessary for Indian farmers to switch to modern irrigation practices which utilize this precious resource effectively. These scientific methods like drip irrigation will help not only reduce the input cost but also ensure availability of water when it needed most.
Many companies and individuals are working towards making drip irrigation affordable and acceptable. We have to educate and train farmers to adopt drip irrigation for both economic and environmental benefits.