EEG project in Bangladesh makes recommendations for improving energy efficiency in rice field irrigation

The EEG project on improving energy efficiency in rice field irrigation in Bangladesh, being led by Tufts University, is one of the first to try to understand if energy efficiency can be increased among agricultural users, and whether electricity use in agriculture can be a target for policy intervention.
While domestic and industrial consumers are responsible for the largest share of electricity use in Bangladesh, agricultural connections have grown the fastest in recent decades, even outpacing domestic connections in recent years. The researchers studied the adoption of a simple water-saving irrigation technology known as alternate wetting and drying (AWD), which is essentially a plastic PVC pipe open at both ends and drilled with holes, to reduce water usage, and therefore electricity for water pumping, under a randomised control trial.
The project team recently published a policy brief on the findings. The introduction of AWD was shown to reduce daily electricity consumption for irrigation by up to 40%, but only in certain circumstances. Recommendations include:

  • In Bangladesh irrigation, where water for rice is sold to farmers by tube well owners, the study found the most effective way to introduce AWD was to provide the subsidised PVC plastic pipes required directly to the tube well owners. Providing pipes to individual farmers did not result in an uptake of the technique.

  • While providing pipes and information to tube well owners ensured the AWD technique was applied, resulting in substantial reductions in electricity use, there was little evidence of reduced costs being passed on to farmers by tube well owners. If policy objectives were to ensure the resulting social benefits were spread more widely than tube well owners (as opposed to just ensuring more efficient use of electricity), then further research would be required to explore mechanisms to bring that about.