India's International Development Enterprises (IDEI) works to advance locally-appropriate, sustainable development by designing and marketing affordable products that can improve the lives of the rural poor and ease some of the burdens that keep them in dire poverty.
Their products are geared towards rural farmers, and primarily deal with water -- probably the most vital and burdensome resource to obtain and use efficiently. Their Affordable Drip Irrigation Technology Intervention program introduces a collection of ready-to-use, prepacked kits that can be selected according to the size and condition of the farmer's plot. Their product summary explains:
Though drip irrigation as a water-saving technology -- comprised of drip and sprinkler irrigation -- existed in India and elsewhere for over fifteen years, it was not appropriate and affordable for small and marginal farm families. Hence the key task of IDEI during the period from 1997 to 2000 was to adapt this technology to suit the needs of poor farm families and, more importantly, to make the technology affordable.
Conventional technologies have a high capital cost, and are high-tech in nature, making them complicated to install and maintain. Further, there is a severe lack of efficient market supply chains in rural areas to develop, manufacture, install and maintain micro irrigation systems appropriate to India's small and marginal farmers.
IDEI's products cost around $30 and employ simple components that are easy to use. To make it even easier, IDEI has been running a marketing program to help farmer's learn how to adopt this technology. Their instructional tool is a Bollywood-style film that educates viewers about the benefits of drip irrigation. IDEI workers bring the film from village to village and either project it from the back of a truck, as shown in this picture, or project it onto the side of a house.
The company has already sold more than 80,000 of these irrigation kits, and with their entertainment-style marketing and education campaign, they will probably sell many more.
The conventional view is that developing the contacts, resources, and infrastructure necessary to penetrate these types of rural markets with innovative technologies and services (like drip irrigation) just isn't worth the investment.
Yet its strange, as I often point out to farmers when I travel in Latin America, that the most profitable enterprise in rural areas is the sale of agrochemicals, fertilizers, and hybrid seed (increasingly GMO), while the least profitable enterprise is farming itself.
Sure, there are markets to be developed, its just that the wrong companies are developing them. And I'll name names: Syngenta, Monsanto, DuPont, Cargill. Until more small enterprise groups step up (and I believe there's a glut of NGOs), the big uns are going to continue to provoke a downward spiral of smallholder systems.