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Does Drip Irrigation Save Water?

A randomized evaluation of drip irrigation in India


Andhra Pradesh, India


Project Details

Widespread adoption of efficient irrigation technologies, including drip irrigation, has been proposed to limit groundwater over-exploitation, especially in water-stressed South Asia.
This project evaluated the potential productivity and water-saving benefits of smallholder drip irrigation by conducting a randomized control trial in Andhra Pradesh, India. A group of well-owners was offered a subsidy to adopt drip irrigation, while a comparable group acted as controls.
After three years, the drip group shifted more into horticultural crops, enjoyed higher farm profit, and transferred (primarily through cash sales) more of its groundwater to adjacent plots. There is no difference in ground- water pumping, which has zero marginal price in this setting. The evidence thus suggests that drip adoption in South India, while increasing irrigation efficiency, will not save groundwater.

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