Bamboo Drip Irrigation- History and Mechanism

For hundreds of years, indigenous people have shown excellent creativity, whether in farming, food, or housing. Bamboo drip irrigation is one such wonderful gift to the agriculture system from farmers of northeastern India. This rural irrigation technique could possibly change how mountain agriculture could function. Bamboo drip irrigation is one of the oldest methods to transfer spring water using a bamboo pipe. This technique uses gravity to transport water from higher to lower regions.

Photo by Man Chung on Unsplash


Farmers of the Meghalaya use this indigenous technique of bamboo drip irrigation to irrigate their plantation crops. The Jaintia and Khasi hill farmers have developed these tapping springs and stream water systems to grow betel leaves, black pepper, and areca nut.

So, if you want to know more about this peculiar yet remarkable irrigation system, then continue reading the whole article.

 History Of Bamboo Drip Irrigation

Farmers in the Northeastern state of Meghalaya, India, have used bamboo to construct an indigenous drip irrigation technique to irrigate their plants for over 200 years.

The tribes of the Jaintia and Khasi hill areas developed this tapping system into springs and stream water to grow betel leaves, black pepper, and ‘Arceanut’ or tobacco. Moreover steep slopes and rocky boulders define the topology of the hilly areas of Meghalaya.

While the region gets plenty of rainfall during the monsoon season, irrigation becomes necessary during the dry season because of poor water retention capacity due to the low soil depth of the hills.

The steep terrain of the hills makes it difficult to divert groundwater or bring water from far water sources to the plantations. Faced with these challenges, eventually, tribal farmers of Meghalaya came up with a unique irrigation system, commonly known today as the “bamboo drip irrigation system”.

Bamboo Drip Irrigation In Meghalaya

You can find the irrigation system in the ‘war’ areas of Meghalaya but is more prevalent in the ‘war’ Jaintia hills than in the ‘war’ Khasi hills.
This system is also widely popular in the Muktapur region bordering Bangladesh. Moreover, the region has very steep slopes and rocky terrain.
The diversion of water through ground channels is not possible. Clan owns cultivation land, and senior elder clans allocate them after paying a one-time rent
 The clan elders have the prerogative to decide who should get what and how much land. Once the farmers pay rent and the land took on the lease for cultivation, the lease period operates as long as the plants last.
In the case of betel leaf cultivation, the lease can last for a very long time since the plants are not lopped off after one harvest. But once the plants die, for whatever reason, the land reverts to the clan and farmers can only lease it out again after paying new rent.
              Credit- Zizira
The water for betel leaf plants is diverted from streams into intricate bamboo canal systems by temporary diversions. Betel leaf is planted in March before the monsoon. Farmers require irrigation water during winters, and they use a bamboo pipe system.
Hence, farmers made these bamboo systems ready before the onset of the winter, and during the monsoon, there is no diversion of water into them.
The farmers themselves do maintenance of the pipes and supports. Farmers form cooperatives, and each farmer provides their skill and labour to maintain the system.
Repair work is undertaken as and when required. Farmers carry Water distribution by diverting water from one field to another at fixed timings
Farmers place a short bamboo with a hole at the bottom across the main lines to divert the water. This blocks the main water pipe and diverts the water.

Mechanism Of Bamboo Drip Irrigation

The bamboo drip irrigation system works with gravitational force, and the steep topography of the Meghalayan hills helps support the flow of water through the network.
Farmers divide Bamboo culms longitudinally in half along their length, and these parts act as the channels and diversions through which they tap Water from an uphill stream and fly into the primary bamboo channel.
The primary bamboo channel runs for hundreds of meters and, in some cases, even for a few kilometers. Farmers made Water diversion devices from bamboo of lesser diameter than the main channel and divert the water to secondary and tertiary bamboo networks.
These networks have 4 or 5 sub-channels that are diversion stages themselves called sub-channels that lead the water to lower elevation to the base of the plants.
At lower elevations, the bamboo channels that deliver water at the base of the plants have holes cut in them through which water drips. 18-20 liters of water flowing through the entire network eventually reduces to 18 to 20 drops per minute at the end of the network.

Cost And Maintenance

The cost involved in building the system is minimal. Bamboo is available freely in this region. Usually, the farmer sets up the system on his plantation with some help from 1 or 2 laborers.
The region gets heavy rain, so as a result, each installation lasts for about 2-3 years. After the rainy season, there is clearance of undergrowth, and they provide reinforcements. Farmers left Old bamboo to rot, which returns to the soil as humus over time. 
Farmers form Cooperatives, and each farmer provides their skill and labour to build and maintain the system. You divert water at fixed timings for water distribution from one plantation to another.
It avoids the occurrence of conflicts between various farmers. The whole community works harmoniously by this method, sharing the limited resources judiciously.

Reasons to Use bamboo for irrigation

  • Bamboo is light, robust, versatile, and durable
  • It is environment-friendly
  • It is easily accessible to the poor
  • Bamboo is a self-renewing source of nature
  • It is fast-growing and abundant
  • It is highly productive
  • Bamboo is a low-cost material
Image by Mamoru Masumoto from Pixabay


The Jaintia, Khasi, and Garo hill tribes have long entrusted the use of bamboo drip irrigation as a means of fulfilling domestic, agricultural, and customary needs. With little mechanization, we should implement it in other hilly areas of similar geography. Its function remains unspoiled, so as the rains continue to fall and the bamboo grows.

Meanwhile, the whole mechanism utilizes gravity as a source of energy without any other fuel. Consequently, the establishment and maintenance cost is minimal. The versatility of bamboo plants is the primary reason for the success of bamboo drip irrigation. 

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