The actual performance of drip irrigation (irrigation efficiency, distribution uniformity) in the field is often quite different from that obtained in experimental stations. We developed an approach to explain the actual irrigation performance of drip irrigation systems by linking measured performances to farmers' irrigation practices, and these practices to the underlying logic of farmers who operate these systems. This approach was applied to 22 farms in Morocco. Four sets of variables helped explain the gap between the actual irrigation performance and the performance obtained in experimental conditions: (1) farmers have agro-economic motivations or want to improve their social status, and for them, irrigation performance is at best an intermediate objective. (2) Irrigation performance is not a static value, but a rapidly evolving process, related to the (perceived) ability of farmers to change irrigation practices and renew irrigation equipment, but also to farmers' aspirations. (3) The social network of farmers, supporting the introduction and use of drip irrigation, determines how farmers may share experience, information and know-how related to drip irrigation. (4) Today, there is no social pressure to irrigate carefully to save water; only the state explicitly links the use of drip irrigation to saving water. Making the drip user visible in research and policy studies would lead to more realistic assessments of irrigation performance and draw the attention of policy makers to the actual conditions in which drip irrigation is used, and as a consequence help incorporate 'saving water' as an objective for drip irrigation users.
- water scarcity