Impact of low cost irrigation technologies on livelihoods and women’s empowerment

March 28th, 2016

ICIMOD held an international workshop on water, livelihood and gender nexus recently in Kathmandu. We were also invited to share our experience.  The following is the full script of the presentation I made on the impact of low cost irrigation technologies (micro irrigation technologies) on livelihood and women empowerment.


The impact of irrigation on livelihoods is obvious. However, the impact of conventional irrigation schemes on the livelihoods of poor and marginalised households is not that obvious.  Marginalised households often live at the edges of the settlements, mostly in small numbers, making it difficult for the conventional schemes to reach them.

Google map

This Google map shows a typical village in western Nepal. The main settlement constitutes about 60 houses. Five houses are below the main settlement, at about 20 minutes’ walking distance. These houses belong to the poor, most likely to Dalits. Conventional irrigation would target the main settlement as there is often  pressure to reach the larger population as better value for money.

Extending the reach of the irrigation scheme to marginalized households is costly. The per unit cost would be very high and economically unjustifiable. Even if economic viability is discounted and the budget is not a constraint, the water is less likely to reach them, because there is not enough water, even for the main settlement.  Hence, some households will be left out.

There are thousands of similar villages across the country. You won’t find any village, even in the remotest part of the country, where there is no irrigation scheme of some sort; however, you will find such left out households in almost every village. Hence, large numbers of marginalised households are deprived of irrigation facilities. We promote the low cost irrigation technologies to cater the irrigation needs of such marginalised households.

The following are some of the  low cost irrigation technologies we have been promoting:

So, how do the micro irrigation technologies improve the access of poor and marginalised households to irrigation?

  1. Low cost irrigation technologies fill the void left out by conventional schemes.
  2. They increase water efficiency. Our mountains and hills are dry.  Limited resources we have are also shrinking gradually.  Hence, it is very important that we use our water resources wisely and efficiently. These low cost technologies help achieve this.
  3. Studies and our own experience have shown that low cost technologies are more sustainable. They have small and homogenous users. Hence, all the users have equal say in decision making and the distribution of water is more or less equitable. This ensures more ownership towards the technologies which help to improve their sustainability.
  4. Low cost technologies are affordable and simple to operate and maintain. This improves access of marginalized households to the technology.
  5. Low cost irrigation technologies also help in women empowerment.


This is Tula Devi Saud from Bajura. She literally had to beg to her husband to let her to grow vegetables on some of their land. In the rural areas, women rarely own land. Hence, they have little say in deciding how to use the land.  After much pleading, however, her husband agreed to let her cultivate vegetable in 0.5 Ropani (1 Ropani = 508.72 sq. m) of their land. But, there was no irrigation facility in their village.
She had to fetch water from a well about 20 minutes walking distance from the village. It would cost her 2-3 hours daily. Hence, she would produce only about 50-60 Kg of vegetable in a season which would earn her merely about five thousand rupees in a year. Thus, she was solely dependent on her husband for all kind of expenses.

Two year ago, they constructed an irrigation pond in the village. She actively participated in the construction. Now, she grows vegetables on 2.5 ropani of land. It takes her only about an hour to irrigate her plots. Now she sells 1200 kgs of vegetables a year. Last year, she made Rs 45000 from selling vegetable. Now, she supports her husband financially.  In fact, she gets her husband to porter the vegetable to the market whenever he needs pocket money.  This story pretty much explains the significance of micro-irrigation to women’s empowerment.

We can summarize as follows:

  • While the conventional irrigation schemes are more concerned with cereal crops, the low cost technologies are often used for cash crops, mainly vegetable farming. Often, vegetable farming is the only prospect for rural women, who are mostly illiterate, to earn money. So, the low cost irrigation technologies help.
  • Rural households have multiple water needs. And women are responsible for meeting the needs. Statistics tells us that 80% of the water needed in rural Nepal are met by women. The micro-irrigation technologies help to meet the multiple water needs. For example,  water in the jar or the irrigation pond can be used for irrigation, for cattle and maintaining household sanitation.
  • The low cost irrigation technologies bring the water closer to the house, which reduce their drudgery and save time and energy. It also allows them to attend other household chores alongside irrigating their plot.
  • Finally, the technologies are affordable and simple to operate. Hence, women can own and operate them on their own.

The 21st century is defined by technological revolution. However, its benefit is lopsided. The rich have greater access to technologies. The technological innovations are inclined to meet the desires of the rich than the needs of poor. However, it is invariably the poor who bear brunt of the negative consequences of indiscriminate use of technologies. In Practical Action we call this technology injustice, and seek to reduce it by promoting the low cost appropriate technologies. Micro-irrigation technologies are among the technologies which hold much promise for improving the livelihoods of the poor and supporting women’s empowerment.

One response to “Impact of low cost irrigation technologies on livelihoods and women’s empowerment”

  1. Elena Says:

    Very fascinating article! I spent some time in Bajura several years ago and would love to learn more about this project. Rabindra-ji, if you have the time, please send me an email. Thanks for this very interesting read!

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