While high-level agricultural cooperation between India and the United States has focused on bringing advanced technologies to India, the flow of knowledge is sometimes reversed at the grassroots level and in academic circles.
This week two Indian farmers from Jalgaon district in the state of Maharashtra travelled to Boston, where they told a rapt audience at Harvard University’s prestigious Business School about how they had used drip irrigation to dramatically increase their farm yields.
Speaking to The Hindu, Hemchandra Patil (40) and Rajendra Patil (50) said that at the invitation of Harvard Business School they had travelled to the U.S. to explain how, over ten years, a unique system of drip irrigation farming techniques had helped them expand their farm holdings from between two and 12 acres to nearly 40 acres.
A partner to the Patils in this success story was one of the early pioneers of drip irrigation in India – a company called Jain Irrigation Systems. Dilip Kulkarni, President of the agro foods division at Jain Irrigation, said to The Hindu that while drip irrigation had been relatively rare in India prior to 1985, the company’s founder, Bhavarlal Jain, played a key role in adapting drip irrigation techniques used in large-scale farms in the U.S. to the small farming conditions found commonly in India.
The key technology adaptations involved entailed modification of the drip irrigation system to suit the low-water-pressure conditions in India and also recalibration of the equipment to distribute water across smaller farm holdings.
Mr. Hemchandra Patil said that the efficient use of water that drip irrigation implied had helped him increase his earnings per acre, for example for onion cultivation, from around 10,000 rupees to 40,000 rupees or more.
He added that Jain Irrigation Systems had been instrumental in this process, not only by giving him access to the drip irrigation equipment but also by holding regular technical seminars, usually conducted by an agronomist, on appropriate cultivation methods. The Jain Hi-Tech Agricultural Institute at Jalgaon was the forum for these training seminars, he said.
In response to a question on why drip irrigation was not more popular and the less efficient technique of flood irrigation was widespread, for example, in states like Tamil Nadu, Mr. Kulkarni said that there were several reasons for this.
First, he explained, many farmers held the “wrong idea [that] more water means more paddy.” This was especially prevalent in South Indian states where rice, a crop that is relatively intensive in its use of water, is widely cultivated.
Further, Mr. Kulkarni noted, the cost of drip irrigation could sometimes be prohibitive, especially for small farmers, as it averaged about 25,000 rupees per acre.
However combined with a 50 per cent subsidy from the state government, Jain Irrigation had also evolved a system of providing the drip irrigation system upfront to the farmer and helping the farmer obtain a bank loan for the remainder through a tripartite agreement involving the farmer, the bank and Jain Irrigation itself.
The success of the system, which has also focussed on contract farming and market-access solutions, has not gone unnoticed.
Even before the farmers’ Harvard presentation the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation recognised the transformative potential of the system in giving it the IFC’s Inclusive Business Leadership Award, a rare honour.