Many scientific reports have indicated that the world is growing drier with time. While the exact rate of global warming has been highly contested by scientists, many tend to agree with this reality. Africa will be particularly worse hit.
Farmers therefore need to realise it is no longer business as usual. Rain-fed agriculture is becoming increasingly unreliable especially in the drier areas where the issue is more about getting any water, than it is about managing the water resources.
Farmers all around the globe are quickly adopting irrigated agriculture as a guard against uncertainties such as the amount and distribution of rain. In Asia, irrigated agriculture has widely been a magic bullet which has transformed the regions from net food importers to food exporters.
How efficient is your irrigation system?
Not all irrigation methods are as effective though. Some methods require such a high amount of water that they are simply inapt for many farmers. The drip irrigation has been hailed as the formidable weapon against food insecurity, and has been used by desert countries such as Israel to literally feed the globe.
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This technology has enabled a country smaller than the entire Kitui County to feed the world and is now available in Kenya at a reasonable price. The drip irrigation is superior to the conventional methods of irrigation in various ways.
First, the technology delivers water directly to the roots of the crop in small regular drops. This reduces the amount of water wastage, as only the useful soil is watered. Again, since the water is released in small doses, little if any, is lost.
Drip irrigation is also imperative in preventing spread of fungal diseases such as powdery mildew which can be devastating in many crops.
These diseases are easily spread by other types of irrigation through the splashing of the soil onto the leaves. The wetting of the leaves presents a conducive environment for the microscopic pests to thrive. Since drip irrigation delivers water expressly to the root region, such challenges are easily avoided.
Another advantage of the drip method is that it prevents the nutrient runoff which is common in other methods of irrigation where the soil is flooded with water.
With the drip, only the required amount of water is released to the plants. It therefore does not wash off the nutrient packed soil or leach away the applied fertilisers.
Indeed, many farmers have adopted the system as a more effective method of fertiliser application on the plants, where liquid fertiliser is mixed with water and spread straight to the plants as and when they need it.
There are other numerous advantages that come with this innovation; including a great reduction of labour costs. But the fact that it can cut water usage by over 50 per cent is possibly the single most important factor to many farmers, because that means you can grow more crops from the same amount of water.
But like all good things, there are some factors the farmer needs to observe keenly to reap maximum returns from the drip kit.
Clogging: Since water is released through tiny pores on the plastic ducts, it is important for you to constantly check the quality of water to ensure it does not contain suspended particles such as silt.
It is also important to ensure that the irrigation water does not contain the green algae and other slimes as they easily cause blockage in the pores. Special care must therefore be taken when using water from open wells and reservoirs.
In case you notice the green algae or any biological slime in the water, you can use the simple chlorination method to clear the water, while blockage from silt accumulation can be avoided by using filters.
If you are using salty water, you must also be aware of possible precipitation of salts, which can clog the tiny drip holes and render the system ineffective.
Easy to improvise
You must therefore consider an effective method of preventing the precipitation, which depends on the type of salt in question. If the water is high in calcium carbonate for example, regular acidifying of the water can effectively manage the risk.
Damage: Drip irrigation kits are mainly comprised of thin plastic tubes that carry water across the field. There is therefore the risk of the pipes getting damaged while in the field.
Extra care must therefore be taken when carrying out normal practices such as weeding or furrowing to prevent any damage on the irrigation lines.
Where the risk of damage is high, it is important to consider the use of subsurface method, where the drip pipes are buried under the soil.
You can also use light mulch such as dry grass to cover the drip lines so as to reduce their exposure and shade them from the hot sun, which is also an added advantage in the dry and windy areas as it further conserves the irrigation water.
It is therefore no doubt this is an awesome tool that can quickly change the fortunes of a farmer for the better.
More encouraging is that it is an expandable kit, which can be small enough to water a small tree seedlings of kitchen garden, to an expansive kit that can cover up to an acre or more.
The technology is also easy to improvise, and farmers need only to learn the basics of the technology, before coming up with their own self assembled kit.
In Asia and even parts of Central Africa, self-assembled kits are becoming increasingly popular among farmers and have served as a solid testimony to the fact that overcoming food insecurity is not only possible, but also practical.