Farmer led irrigation: Smallholders driving the expansion of irrigated agriculture

It seems like every few months there is a term coined, and often a lovely acronym to go with it, relating to small-scale agriculture, renewable technologies, development… I admit, they often seem a little laboured. A new buzz phrase to bring up at conferences – well meaning but lacking in purpose.

However, when I came across the term “Farmer Led Irrigation” (FLI), something in it resonated with me and the work we do at Futurepump.

So what is farmer led irrigation?

Farmer led irrigation is the realisation that smallholder farmers face a lot of challenges – rising food demands, access to water, natural disasters – and instead of companies and NGOs coming in to fix these, the farmers lead. In terms of irrigation, this means that farmers drive the setting up of, improvement and expansion of irrigated agriculture.

What I particularly like about this is that this empowers farmers to access opportunities. Irrigation solutions must therefore fit the market rather than be shoehorned in from well meaning inventors. However, what I don’t quite see from the video from the World Bank (above) and the research I have done into FLI – how do rural smallholders get their opinions heard by irrigation providers?

End-users should be at the heart of innovation

At Futurepump we try to harness the knowledge that our smallholder customers have, to design products that truly fit the market and are a beneficial investment to our customers. All our prototype solar irrigation pumps go through months of field tests with end-users before they are ready to be sold. Then, once we are selling pumps we continue to check in with our customers to gain their feedback and continuously improve our products.

Farmer led irrigation: The Futurepump SF1 next to the Futurepump SF2
The Futurepump SF1 and SF2 showing the transformation in the product over the years thanks to farmer feedback. It is now smaller, has more solar PV in a more portable arrangement and pumps more water.

What we have learnt over the years is that farmers are innovators, changemakers, and entrepreneurs. They are on the frontline when it comes to food production and climate change. Who could be better to guide and drive innovation in agriculture? So even though this field testing stage requires a huge amount of time investment from our field staff, it is something we would never neglect to do. It is a key step in empowering end-users, smallholder farmers, to drive innovation. This is at the heart of farmer led irrigation.

Futurepump field testing services

Our field testing site in Western Kenya hosts a wealth of knowledge and skills which we have honed over the last 7+ years. If you are interested in speaking to our team about field testing support please contact Charles at