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Review of the irrigation equipment manufacture and supply sector in South Africa, F.H. Koegelenberg

F.H. Koegelenberg
Irrigation Engineer Department of Agriculture South Africa

Availability of irrigation equipment for small-scale farmers
Supply of irrigation equipment to East and Southern African countries
Quality, performance and cost of South African equipment
Supply of spares, servicing and assistance with installation, operation, maintenance
Advantage to farmers in using South African equipment

A wide range of irrigation systems is currently in use by small-scale irrigators in South Africa (De Lange, 1994). Irrigation schemes largely use sprinkler irrigation, while independent farmers with community gardens often use short furrows.

Availability of irrigation equipment for small-scale farmers

The irrigation equipment needed for the systems in Table 1 (apart from sprinklers which are imported) is manufactured in South Africa. It is important that installations for small-scale farmers comply with the requirements as set out by Breuer and Netzband (1980):

· low level of capital costs

· use local materials where possible

· employ local skills and labour

· scheme small enough to be affordable and manageable by a small group of farmers

· user friendly technology, compatible with local values and preferences, and based on traditional methods

· easy to operate and maintain at village or community level

· minimum dependence on outside help

· involving renewable energies such as wind, sun, animals, rather than oil and electricity

· system to be erected in stages to eliminate or rectify possible mistakes and made flexible to address changing situations

Recently a number of manufacturers have developed manually-operated and small motorised pumps which are ideally suited to small-scale farming. Further development may be realised, depending on the demand by small-scale farmers. The Agricultural Research Council (Silverton) has developed a pump specifically suited to the needs of small-scale farmers using secondhand parts.

Supply of irrigation equipment to East and Southern African countries

Export of products to other African countries is difficult due to design, knowledge and financial shortcomings. Suitable dealers, irrigation merchants and extension officers with the expertise to handle even conventional irrigation systems are hard to find. South African manufacturers prefer using local agents (wholesalers or designers) when dealing with other African countries.

Joint ventures for supply and design would be possible provided that locals can be trained as technicians to supply the data. The following are some of the data:

Soils: Water-holding capacity, major soil types, irrigability, infiltration rate, typical problem soils.

Crops: Water requirements, effective root depth, compatibility to soil, climate and water.

Climate: Rainfall, temperature ranges, humidity, wind, evaporation rates.

Water: Availability, seasonality, quality, storage.

Topography: Suitable gradients, limitations on systems.

Management: Elements of irrigation management, levels needed for different systems, typical problems.

Environment: Resources conservation, pollution risks, damage, theft.

Domestic/cultural aspects: Time available for irrigation, limitations for female farmers, special days, other influences.

At this stage, production by local manufacturers is limited due to the small quantities of equipment in use in these areas. South African manufacturers would be willing to have their equipment manufactured under licence in other countries.

Quality, performance and cost of South African equipment

South African products are of high quality and have been tested to give trouble-free service when applied locally. Most irrigation products are tested at the Agricultural Research Council, Institute for Agricultural Engineering, at Silverton. Test results indicate which products are suitable for use by small-scale farmers. Furthermore, most products comply with South African Irrigation Institute (SABI) and ISO quality standards. Manufacturers conduct their own factory tests and make use of the CSIR and testing facilities at local universities. It is important to use quality products with a service life of at least 15 years.

Irrigation performance is measured according to correct design, maintenance and management standards. Members of the SABI in other countries are bound by an ethical code to design systems which comply to certain norms. It will be a challenge to develop norms specifically suited to small-scale farming.

Most irrigation materials are delivered FOB Johannesburg by South African companies while CIF deliveries are also possible, if preferred, by agents in other countries. Although packaging costs are low in most cases, some companies want to make a profit on packaging as well. Depending on the size of the system, the cost of delivered equipment on farm should be about 15 to 30 percent higher than retail in South Africa to allow for merchants' profit.

Package deals can be negotiated for certain areas. For instance, a complete sprinkler irrigation system with pump can be designed and delivered, provided local technicians are involved.

Supply of spares, servicing and assistance with installation, operation, maintenance

Agents of South African companies can keep stocks of spares and complete equipment available for rapid replacement when problems occur. Faulty equipment will then be returned to the manufacturer in South Africa. Furthermore, South African manufacturers can visit their agents on short notice if problems arise with certain equipment. Agents are trained in the operation and maintenance of equipment and to deliver a service to farmers if problems arise.

Manuals on the operation, installation and maintenance of different equipment are available to the agents. Many manuals have sketches which simplify interpretation by clients.

It is also possible for a South African manufacturer to visit a farmer with the agent, when needed.

Advantage to farmers in using South African equipment

· Equipment has been developed for African conditions especially variations in temperature and water conditions.

· Equipment is readily available due to short delivery periods.

· Distances are relatively short, making communications easier (e.g. with installation difficulties).

· South African manufacturers have agents who supply after-sale service.

· Most South African manufacturers are SABI members and therefore committed to the ethical code. Manufacturers gain expertise by regular communication with other SABI members.

· South African products are affordable in other countries due to the favourable exchange rate and low transport costs.

· A fast, efficient service is ensured as South African manufacturers have sufficient stocks, making products available on demand.

· The test results from Silverton can be used in comparing South African products.

· South African manufacturers are prepared to make specific one-off products provided that clear guidelines are provided.


South African companies have the capacity to manufacture relevant and suitable equipment for small-scale farmers in other parts of Africa. They would be willing to supply the required high-quality equipment at reasonably low costs as well as provide agents with the necessary assistance in installation, operation and maintenance of systems. They would also guide the agents to ensure that equipment supplied, is used within its limitations (working range). New equipment for which a need arises, can also be developed.

Successful irrigation by small-scale farmers, irrespective of the system or equipment used, can only be achieved using a multi-disciplinary approach, with community participation and transfer of skills. All sections of the community must actively participate from the planning, design and construction stage, through to the operation, management and maintenance stage of the scheme. It is therefore recommended that a local irrigator be trained as a technician and facilitator between the farmer and the supplier.

Planning guidelines, design criteria for small-scale irrigation systems and equipment must be drawn up for a region to ensure that the available water is used effectively. SABI can be of assistance in establishing norms.

Finally, all role-players including manufacturers, suppliers, designers, scientists, government institutions, NGOs and farming groups in East and Southern African countries must network to ensure that the relevant knowledge of the suitability of equipment remains intact and to identify shortcomings.


Alberts, C. 1996. Die benutting van 'n wawiel-sisteem vir die kweek van groente en druiwe. S.A. Irrigation.

Breuer, A. and Netzband, A. 1980. Small-scale irrigation. German Appropriate Technology Exchange (GATE).

De Lange, M., 1994. Small-scale irrigation in South Africa. WRC, Pretoria. De Lange, M. 1995. Irrigation opportunities in a changing Africa. S.A. Irrigation.

Vaishnav. T. 1991. Training engineering supervisors for small-scale irrigation development in Nigeria. Waterlines 9(4).

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