Micro-Irrigation at the Margins: Unpacking Technological Choice and Barriers to uptake in Semi-Arid India

Karan Misquitta

In India micro-irrigation, specifically drip irrigation, is seen as a technology that can address the problem of growing water scarcity while simultaneously increasing productivity and farmer incomes. However, adoption of this technology by farmers remains low; this despite the state providing generous subsidies to promote micro irrigation. In this study focusing on the state of Maharashtra in India we examine the barriers that farmers face in adopting drip irrigation and how and these emerge and persist. 
 
We argue that a technology like micro-irrigation must be assessed within the socio-economic, ecological, and institutional contexts that it is situated. The study unpacks the socio-technical system that has emerged around the technology. We also explore how farmers who practice agriculture under highly uncertain and variable conditions, particularly vis-a-vis water availability, take decisions to adopt the technology and how these decisions are affected by pressures and barriers that operate across scales. 
 
We use participatory network mapping and in depth interviews to delineate the dynamics of this system across multiple scales from the farm-level to state policy and programmes. Network maps were created during focus group discussions with drip irrigation users and semi structured interviews with key actors (government officers, dealerships, manufacturers). Indepth semistructured interviews (n=20) were conducted with adopters of drip irrigation to understand decision making vis-a-vis adoption of specific drip irrigation technologies. Data from these sources was supplemented by analysis of policy documents and scheme outlays related to drip irrigation at both the state level as well as in the study villages. 
 
We find that the political economy of subsidy disbursement and the risks associated with agriculture under conditions of (climate) uncertainty influence the kind of technology that is promoted and creates barriers to adoption, particularly for relatively resource poor farmers. Further, we find that there exist alternative, low cost technologies, which while failing to meet prescribed quality standards and subsequently, falling outside the ambit of subsidy, appear to meet the immediate the needs of this set of farmers. 
 
Our findings are relevant to policy research and design and demonstrate how analysis across multiple scales can yield important information on how and why barriers and enablers to the adoption of agricultural technologies emerge. This is particularly relevant in the context of climate change adaptation where technologies like micro-irrigation are promoted, often without adequate attention to the social, political, institutional, and environmental contexts within which adoption takes place.