Smallholder drip irrigation is widely held as a promising technology for water saving, poverty reduction and food security, despite a dearth of evidence of benefits to farmers, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In this article, we document three development programmes promoting drip irrigation in Burkina Faso. Using actor network theory and insights from critical development studies, we show that development brokers play a key role in aligning interests, shaping activities and interpreting project outcomes. They are accountable towards each other rather than to farmers. This means that success is interpreted through development agencies lenses and with the intention of continuing involvement in future projects. Small farmers’ interests and uptake of the technology are of secondary importance.