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Driptech: A 2011 Social Venture Network Innovation Award Winner

Driptech: A 2011 Social Venture Network Innovation Award Winner

 

Water scarcity affects 1 in 3 people on every continent of the globe — even in areas with plenty of rainfall or fresh water. Now consider this: Almost 60% of the world’s fresh water is used for agriculture. In some places, including China and India, it’s as much as 90%.

Half of the world’s nearly 600 million small-plot farmers — farmers who subsist on less than 5 acres of land — live in China and India. Without access to affordable, water-efficient irrigation, they simply can’t grow crops during much of the year, and that creates a vicious cycle of poverty. No produce means no ability to go to market to sell or barter their goods; it also means they often can’t properly feed their families, and their already meager incomes spiral in decline.

That’s where Peter Frykman and his social enterprise Driptech come in. Frykman founded Driptech three years ago to alleviate poverty by creating affordable, water efficient irrigation solutions for small-plot farmers in the developing world. Frykman’s system is decidedly low-tech, comprised of 200 meter lengths of inexpensive, precision-punched tubing that delivers water directly to the plants’ roots. The system runs on gravity, and uses mesh filters to ensure clean water.

“The Driptech system works because it is able to scale down to the minimum amount of functionality needed to reap the benefits of traditional commercial drip irrigation without adding unnecessary costs to the design,” Jean Shia, Driptech’s Director of Business Operations told me in an email interview. “It is the first system we’ve seen that delivers the appropriate balance between quality and price for small plot farmers.”

Frykman came up with the idea for Driptech in the spring of 2008 when he was in Ethiopia taking a course called “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability” as part of his mechanical engineering PhD program at Stanford University. During his time there, Frykman witnessed firsthand Ethiopia’s worst drought in 20 years. He met subsistence farmers who could neither grow their crops with the scant water available, nor afford the irrigation systems that were locally available.

That summer Frykman raised $50,000 in seed funding and he was on his way. He started a pilot program in rural India with 15 small-plot farmers that fall.

“A Driptech system saves 30% to 70% of the water used by traditional methods,” Shia told me. “Drip irrigation also increases crop yields by 20% to 90%. Farmers are able to produce enough vegetables to meet their own families’ nutritional needs, grow additional crops to sell in local markets, and grow high value crops during the dry season,” she added.

I asked Shia why Driptech, a 2011 Social Venture Network Innovation Award winner, chose to become a for profit enterprise. “We believe that a for-profit model will best enable us to commercialize our technology and allow us to distribute our product to as many small farm households as possible. This is our critical path to improving rural incomes and livelihoods,” she told me. “Crops grown using Driptech’s product have brought some farmers 50%-150% higher market prices. The cost of a system is usually repaid within 6 months through yield increases and input savings.”

Today there are 1,200 Driptech systems in place in China and India. Shia says Driptech plans to address emerging markets in Latin America and Africa to reach tens of thousands of small-plot farmers in the coming years.

Take a look at this video to see how Driptech has made a difference in the lives of these farmers:

 

Related Care2 Reading:

Sustainable Farming and Livelihoods Take Root

Re:char: A 2011 Social Venture Network Innovation Award Winner

Accelerating Careers In Social Enterprise – With Nathaniel Koloc Of Terrashift

Photo credit: Driptech

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33 comments

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10:39PM PDT on Oct 5, 2011

Many small farmers still water by hand using watering cans. But I'm sure a similar system would be fairly easy to use if they were shown how it works. There are more and more people wanting to grow there own food and avoid all the chemicals used on commercial farms,

6:21PM PDT on Oct 5, 2011

I like these small entrepreneurial aid programs. Like the Driptech solution, they are low tech and easy to use. They allow the farmers to become self-sufficient. Did you see the smiles? Awesome!

5:29PM PDT on Oct 5, 2011

I love low tech solutions! No electricity, no expensive pumps or difficult machinery that can't be fixed. Good job, drip tech!

5:16AM PDT on Oct 5, 2011

Thanks for the article.

10:29PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Sounds like it should be easy enough for farmers to bypass the middleman and create their own system.
Its not that i'm totaly against for- profit, it just that when peoples lives are at stake, altruism is its own reward.
And what about the saying
" Give a man a fish..."?

8:51PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Sounds great. Hope making it for profit doesn't inhibit it from being utilized by those who need it most. Thanks for sharing.

8:28PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

"Driptech" sounds like a brand name for drip irrigation, which has been around for decades. I remember my father experimenting with it in our garden when we were kids.

4:13PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

I hope it works well for the farmers that implement this.

3:45PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Sounds like a good idea but am unsure re the for profit enterprise status - I understand that yes as a commercial concern you can employ people to sell the product or possibly franchise it in other countries but the bottom line is people are still going to make a profit out of something which is meant to be for use by the very poorest viz. those who can least afford to pay, in society. That does not sit well with me, also as a for profit enterprise I would imagine that large charities with excellent chains of distribution that may have been interested in providing such technology under the umbrella of their organisation would not be able to precisely because it is a for profit company and they presumably cannot be seen to support one private company over and above another. Shame wish he could have kept it non-profit and kept closer to the intentions he had when inventing it.

12:47PM PDT on Oct 4, 2011

Thanks for an informative article.

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