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Drip irrigation tech, conservation agriculture show promise for farmers of Ethiopia, Tanzania, Ghana

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New experiments with drip irrigation and conservation agriculture aim to help smallholder women farmers transform their home gardens into viable sources of income and family nutrition.  

Trials now being conducted in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Small Scale Irrigation are looking into how the technologies can benefit vegetable production in the “commercial home gardens.” The research specifically targets women farmers growing vegetables in plots of no more than 200 square meters.   

Innovation Lab researchers hope drip irrigation systems will reduce watering labor while conservation agriculture techniques – which aim to sustainably preserve fertile soil attributes –reduce the labor needs of tilling, plant bed preparation and weeding.

In the long term, similar technologies could be adopted across larger regions to help boost produce yields for market sale and family meals, building livelihoods, food security and nutrition into the future.   

Research in the three African countries includes some experiments that combine drip irrigation with conservation agriculture and others that employ drip irrigation alongside traditional tilled agriculture systems.

Groups of 15, 20 and 15 women have volunteered to participate in the study in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana respectively. Water storage tanks, drip irrigation implements and pipes for tapping water are provided to each volunteer farmer by the Feed the Future Innovation Lab along with inputs like seed and extension service.

Used in tandem, drip irrigation and conservation agriculture technologies are known to boost water use efficiency while decreasing soil evaporation.

Edralin (2015) in a study conducted in Siem Reap, Cambodia reported higher vegetable yields by the fourth harvest from conservation agriculture compared with traditional tilled systems. Weeding was reduced by 30 percent. Soil respiration and moisture contents were higher in conservation agriculture approaches than in traditional ones. Additionally, soil temperature was lower and organic carbon and nitrogen levels increased – all indicators of improved soil quality. Irrigation labor was also reduced by 65 percent with drip and pump irrigation set-ups compared with manual sprinklers.

undefinedEdralin et al. (2014) reported that women operating commercial home gardens earned an average of $300 per year, per 100 square meters of garden space.

Participants of Ethiopia have been provided with drip irrigation hardware and 500 liter water storage tanks; some participants in Tanzania have received tanks and have begun growing vegetables using both conservation agriculture and traditional tilled systems; volunteers have been chosen to begin the study in Ghana. 

Labor savings from drip irrigation and conservation agriculture systems, as well as produce yielded by the experiments, will be measured in the coming months.

References:

  • Edralin, D.I. 2015. Efficacy of Conservation Agriculture in Enhancing Yield of Vegetables and Soil Quality in Cambodia.  Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.
  • Edralin, D.I., S. Ry, and M. Reyes. 2014. Vegetable Production in Drip Irrigation and Conservation Agriculture for the Disadvantaged Women in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Poster presented the 2014 annual horticulture innovation lab meeting, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 2014.