Smallholder irrigation is key to ending poverty in Africa.

Agriculture employs two-thirds of Africa’s population, and 80% of those living below the poverty line. More than anything, these households need an opportunity to make a lot more money.

The problem

The vast majority of these farmers rely on seasonal rains to water their crops. They all plant and harvest at the same time, flooding the local markets when prices are lowest.

Each year, farming families face the Hungry Season

In the off-season, food is scarce and expensive. Farming families must stretch their earnings from the last harvest to purchase food during this time. To cope, households often sell assets, borrow money, and reduce food consumption – especially nutritious fruits and vegetables – causing seasonal hunger and childhood stunting. With little to nothing left to buy high-quality inputs (seeds, fertilizer, etc.) for the next planting season, farmers remain trapped in a cycle of poverty. 

Rain-fed subsistence farming

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 60% of the population and 80% of those that live below the poverty line are smallholder farmers. Despite growing the vast majority of the food consumed in SSA, these farming families live on the smallest financial margins. Their number one need is a way to make more money.
Low-value staple crops
Rain-fed crops like rice, corn, and cereals.
Plant & Harvest at the same time
Planting with the rains means everyone harvests together.
Sell to saturated markets
Crops flood the markets, so farmers sell for low profits.
Food Waste
Up to 40% of crops spoil before they are eaten or sold.
Dry Season Hunger
Food is unavailable and farmers struggle to feed their families.
No capacity to reinvest
When the rains arrive, farmers have little to nothing to invest in high-quality inputs, keeping yields low.
Lost Harvest when rain fails
If the rains fail or floods wash away crops, farmers lose their investment and income.

The opportunity

With irrigation, farmers break their dependence on seasonal rains by growing and harvesting high-value nutritious fruits and vegetables throughout the offseason. They sell between the rain-fed harvests, when prices are highest, and transform their farmers into highly profitable enterprises. Farmers who irrigate make the most money at the end of the dry season, enabling them to invest in high-quality inputs for the rain-fed planting season, driving a new cycle of increasing profits and yields. 

Irrigated production

High-value fruits & vegetables
Farmers plant tomatoes, kale, cabbage, and other high-value nutritious crops.
Plant & Harvest Year-Round
They plant and rotate multiple cycles throughout the dry season.
Sell at high demand for increased profit
Farmers time their planting so they can sell in the off season and maximize their profits.
Income & Food security during dry season
By harvesting and selling year-round, farmers can feed their families, and avoid season hunger.
Increase Staple Yields
With plenty of income at the end of the dry season, farmers can invest in high-quality inputs for their rain-fed crops.
Climate Adaptation
If the rains fail, farmers can save their crops. They can replant quickly after floods instead of waiting for the next season.

Multiple and diverse impacts

With a sustainable opportunity for income and food security, KickStart creates a host of diverse evidence-based impacts.

Increased incomes

Farmers invest their new profits in additional income-generating assets and, on average, increase their on-farm incomes by 400%.

Food security

An irrigated farm provides a household with a nutritious and diverse diet year-round.

Empowered women

By using our pumps, women gain financial freedom, an increased sense of self, and a stake in household decisions.

Africa’s untapped potential 

Despite using less than 5% of its renewable ground and surface water, there is virtually no irrigation in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, it can be a solution for millions of smallholders.


Only 4% of farmland in Sub-Saharan Africa is irrigated (concentrated in Madagascar, South Africa, and Sudan).


This compares to over 40% across Asia and over 50% in India, as a result of the Green Revolution via large government subsidies.


Approximately 20% of smallholder farmers have access to shallow ground or surface water. Millions more can capture and store rainwater.