Authors: Regina Nesiama, Amel El Abed
Nestled in the Sahel, agriculture in Niger is severely impacted by climate change and scarce water resources. Scarce rainwater resources, rainfall variability, and repeated prolonged dry seasons were responsible for the underutilization of available land in Niger for agriculture, and only 7 percent of land in the country was irrigated.
To test the viability and sustainability of a commercial private sector approach to supply drip irrigation technology to farmers in Niger, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) implemented the Niger Irrigation Program (NIP). With support from the Climate Investment Funds’ (CIF) Pilot Program for Climate Resilience (PPCR), the NIP aimed to harness private sector solutions to the water conundrum through drip irrigation technology.
The Program would be implemented in two phases. This case study, prepared by the CIF, focuses on the implementation of Phase 1 of the project, which demonstrate the potential for improved irrigation systems by the Nigerien private sector. Phase 2 would scale up program impact and scope by investing IFC’s own commercial finance together with PPCR concessional finance.
The use of drip irrigation technology would permit farmers, many of whom are women, to tap into the vast and underutilized aquifers1 in Niger and depend less on rain-fed farming. The NIP worked to demonstrate the economic, agronomic, and environmental benefits of drip irrigation as a way to mitigate the effects of heat waves, water scarcity, and longer dry seasons. In partnership with Netafim, a private sector firm, the Manufacturing Agribusiness and Services Advisory team of IFC sought to address the challenges of optimizing water use, enhancing smallholder farmer capacity and yield, equalizing access to water resources across genders, and establishing the financial viability of a commercial irrigation market.
Three delivery challenges were identified:
- Misconceptions about drip irrigation. Local communities and beneficiary stakeholders in Niger were skeptical about drip irrigation because of previous negative experiences with small-scale irrigation in past interventions led by the government and other development partners. To address this challenge, the private sector firm hired a local project coordinator, provided multiple hands-on trainings, and engaged with communities formally, through a multi-stakeholder workshop and informally, at mosques, markets, and other gatherings.
- Limited last-mile support to farmers in local communities. Past interventions did not provide consistent day-to-day technical support, termed as “last-mile support,” to farmers. To resolve this, the NIP assigned Community Field Assistants (CFAs) to each community plot or privately-owned project site. The locally grown talent pool of CFAs provided iterative training, support with day-to-day maintenance, linkage with buyers for farmed produce, fertilization, pesticides and other services.
- Financing constraints for rural farmers. Smallholder farmers, particularly women, could not independently access finance for agriculture. As a solution, the NIP would demonstrate financial viability of drip irrigation and set the framework to identify the right financing mechanism tailored to male and female farmers seeking finance to purchase drip irrigation technology.