Drip-Tech Irrigation is a family-run Zimbabwean irrigation business serving contractors and end users with irrigation and pumping systems. Founded in Harare in 1995, it now supplies a wide variety of irrigation and pumping systems to agricultural and domestic customers. EBM spoke to the company’s MD, Peter Henson.
Drip-Tech is comprised of a retail and a manufacturing section, with more than 80 employees between them. The company sells to several different sectors of the southern African economy: commercial farmers, small-scale farmers or informal growers, mining and industrial clients and urban homes, many of which do not get their water from municipal suppliers.
Peter elaborates. “Our customers split probably into four or five different groups. One of the major groups are commercial farmers, making up about 30% of our sales. Another group that is growing is small scale farmers, sort of informal guys, who have got a hectare or less. They contribute to probably 25%-30% of our sales. Another growing industry for us is what we call “urban water” which is domestic, household water. Probably 70% of our clients here are out of the reach of water provided by the local municipality.”
Consumers are turning to companies like Drip-Tech because municipal pumps are often broken, and repairs are slow. Governments have limited resources, and they are often diverted elsewhere. This is forcing individuals into making their own plans for water. Henson gives an example of a client and the solution offered to them.
“An alternative to municipal water is borehole water. Once a client has had their borehole sited and drilled, Drip-Tech provides installers and everything that they may need to extract the water from the hole into their client’s homes or businesses. Drip-Tech manufactures its own high-quality borehole casing and stocks various pumps and motors to suit the application. In addition to this we supply any fittings that may be required. A popular trend in Zimbabwe is to extract water from your borehole into a storage tank, which we also supply. Now that a client has available water in their storage tank we provide various water boosting solutions to pressurize the water into their homes or businesses.”
Drip-Tech’s large focus on urban water and supply to domestic clients is one of the reasons for its success. Unlike the agricultural and farming sector which is very seasonal, domestic water systems are in demand constantly. This supports the company during its off-peak times from December to May, when the demand from the agricultural sector is low.
One of the major seasonal farming industries Drip-Tech does work with is the tobacco industry. Zimbabwe is a large tobacco grower, and when Drip-Tech was starting up in the mid-1990s many of the farms at the time were small or starting out with limited capital. Henson explains how both the company and its clients have adapted to and benefited from its involvement in the tobacco industry.
“When Drip-Tech originally came out in the 90s in Zimbabwe its products were relatively expensive and out of the reach of many smaller scale farmers”, he explains. The country’s standard of 1mm thick drip lines were expensive to manufacture and used a lot of material, so it was hard to economically sell them at prices its customers could afford. Drip-Tech, seeing a prospective market, began investigating affordable alternatives.
“By teaming up with key players in the world industry we can now supply a reliable product that is a lot more affordable. Our fastest moving product is now 0.2mm thick as opposed to the original 1mm product. The 0.2mm won’t last as long as the 1mm, but the capital investment to start a tobacco farm is much lower and it’s much easier to get the ball rolling.
The advantage of irrigation with tobacco growing is that two crops can be grown in the same season. The irrigated crop is normally planted beginning of September, and the rain fed crop normally around the end of the year, a couple weeks before the onset of the rains. Henson elaborates:
“Even if farmers don’t want to double up their crops, irrigation can make up for sparse or unreliable rainfall and ensure that a single crop can be planted at the optimum time and sustained even through droughts. This ensures higher-quality crops which can be sold for more.”
Future of tobacco
Furthermore, Peter doesn’t think that anti-smoking campaigns worldwide will destroy the tobacco industry. “The global demand on tobacco may not have grown, with the world becoming more health conscious, but the fact that the demand for tobacco is coming down means the demand for high quality tobacco is actually going up and the price difference between low quality tobacco and high-quality tobacco is getting bigger. At Drip-Tech we recognize that irrigation and irrigation management are key tools in achieving a high-quality tobacco crop.
Farmers can also receive help with irrigation from the local Tobacco Industry and Marketing Board (TIMB), who subsidizes irrigation systems. Once introduced to dripline, farmers learn that dripline is no longer an expensive luxury, but is rather a very affordable and indispensable tool in increasing yields.
Drip-Tech supports their efforts and is right behind them, as it finds that small-scale farmers who start out with small sized schemes tend to become long-term customers once their businesses grow larger and they buy more extensive irrigation schemes.