Learning Curves: Impact of Shallow Tube Well Irrigation Support for Nepal’s Smallholder Farmers

Evaluation Document | 16 January 2013
This Learning Curves summarizes the impact evaluation study which quantifies the economic and noneconomic impacts of shallow tubewell irrigation in Nepal. It reviews the environmental impacts on project's beneficiaries, analyzes effectiveness and sustainability of water user groups, and generates findings, lessons and recommendations.

Nepal has vast water resources, but its terrain allows cultivation of only 17.9% of its total land area. Of this, 47% or 1.3 million hectares is irrigated, with 19% through shallow tube wells. These are typically lined by a metal tube and drilled up to 25 meters deep to extract groundwater using a motorized pump.

Nepal has been striving to expand groundwater irrigation as a priority input in agricultural development since the mid-1990s. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other development partners are currently working with the Government of Nepal to draw up a new agricultural development strategy to replace the 1994-approved Agricultural Perspective Plan. The impact evaluation study, Shallow Tubewell Irrigation in Nepal: Impacts of the Community Groundwater Irrigation Sector Project, provides findings and lessons useful in this effort.

The study draws on the experience of the ADB-supported project implemented during 1999-2007. The project aimed to sustainably raise agricultural productivity and incomes of smallholder farmers in the Terai region of eastern and central Nepal by installing 15,000 shallow tube wells and rehabilitating or constructing 600 kilometers of farm-to-market roads in a complementary intervention. At the end of the project 10,870 shallow tube wells and 300 kilometers of farm-to-market roads had been improved.

The evaluation found that investments in shallow tube wells are financially and economically viable for households with less than 1 hectare land. The project resulted in an average increase in net income per hectare of land of over 50%, with farmers earning the equivalent net value of $580 per hectare of irrigated land, compared with $377 for farmers of nonirrigated land. The increase, however, was not sufficient to lift beneficiary households significantly over the poverty line.