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FOOD: A quiet water revolution
JOHANNESBURG, 24 August 2012 (IRIN) – Quietly, a revolution to develop cheap ways to draw water for irrigation is unfolding in small villages and rural regions in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, a new three-year study has found. This movement has the ability to turn agriculture around in the developing world.
The study – by the Sri Lanka-based International Water Management Institute (IWMI), a nonprofit research centre – found that small farmers, tired of waiting for governments to deliver aid, have found ways to access motor pumps, build reservoirs or ponds to harvest rain water to improve their crop yields. And it is paying off.
“We were amazed at the scale of what is going on,” said IWMI’s Meredith Giordano, who coordinated the initiative. “Despite constraints, such as high upfront costs and poorly developed supply chains, small-scale farmers across Africa and Asia have moved ahead using their own resources to finance and install irrigation technologies. It’s clear that farmers themselves are driving this trend.”
Surveys carried out in Ghana, Ethiopia and Zambia found that more than 80 percent of all owners of small-scale irrigation equipment had used their own or their family’s savings to buy it. Banks or microcredit organisations rarely lent money to buy the equipment, and help from NGOs or donors was uncommon.
Buckets and watering cans used by most farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are handy for watering small plots and are rather cheap, with negligible operating costs. A treadle pump can cost up to US $100, with families helping out, and the cost of operating it is also zero. Prices for motorized pumps can reach up to $250, but Giordano told IRIN that many farmers had found a way to manage this cost. For instance, in parts of India, a farmer will buy a pump and then rent it out to other farmers when not using it. There are also pump-on-a-bike hire schemes, where cycling entrepreneurs tour rural areas, renting out pumps strapped to their bicycles.
|In many African countries, private irrigation by farmers is already much more significant than the public irrigation sector|
“The proliferation of small-scale private irrigation is an established trend in South Asia that is now gaining ground in sub-Saharan Africa,” said the study.” In many African countries, private irrigation by farmers is already much more significant than the public irrigation sector,” said Giordano. For example, in Ghana, private irrigation by smallholder farmers employs 45 times more individuals and covers 25 times more land than public irrigation schemes.
The results are becoming apparent. In the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, farmers who have constructed ponds to irrigate crops have seen their incomes rise by 70 percent. A similar initiative in Gursum, an area in Ethiopia’s Oromia region, has been so “successful that it is now known as the ‘No-pond-No-wife’ sub-district,” said the study. Rainwater harvesting was introduced by the Oromia government in 2002, with ponds being built with plastic sheets. Farmers, however scaled-up the initiative by improving the water-holding capacity of the ponds by joining two plastic sheets, ultimately improving crop yields – so much so that “farmers without ponds are said to have difficulty finding a wife, hence the area’s nickname.”