Businessweek: A Big Idea for Little Farms
Monday, November 16, 2009
In the countryside of Shanxi Province in north-central China, farmer Xie Xin has struggled for years with water shortages. The 47-year-old, who grows tomatoes and cucumbers, had to pay dearly to use the local well, since the region receives an average of only 16.5 inches of rainfall annually. But this year, Xie started participating in an experiment in which farmers use new irrigation equipment to conserve water. The equipment, similar to a garden hose with small holes every foot or so, is expected to cut his water use by more than half. Through a translator, Xie says he’ll save money and boost production by reducing water-related diseases.
The gear Xie uses comes from a startup in Palo Alto, Calif., called Driptech. Although similar kinds of irrigation systems have been used for decades, Driptech is winning business in places such as rural China because its technology is designed specifically for small farms and costs much less than traditional systems. The company’s equipment runs $300 for a one-acre farm, instead of the usual thousands, and as little as $5 for smaller family plots. “There are literally hundreds of millions of small-plot farmers suffering from seasonal water scarcity,” says Peter Frykman, Driptech’s 26-year-old founder. “We’re focused on reaching our first million farms as fast as possible.”