A drop in the sand
FAO’s successful experiment with drip irrigation in Niger
22 March 2007, Winditan, Niger – The sand of the savannah around Winditan, some 80 kilometers from Niger’s capital Niamey, is copper-coloured and seemingly endless. Against this dusty backdrop, patches of greenery that shoot up in a vegetable garden strike the eye.
What is harder to see, though, is how green happens to be on the rise in Winditan.
To explain, Maria Helena Semedo, FAO’s Representative to Niger, carefully lifts a black rubber pipe next to a potato plant. “Water, mixed with fertiliser, is pumped through the pipes and comes out here, drop by drop, right by the plant’s root,” she says. “With the same amount of water, this system allows us to double or triple the surface cultivated,” Ms Semedo says.
Drip irrigation is one of the low-cost, easy-to-use, low-maintenance solutions recommended by FAO to allow poor people to lift themselves out of poverty by improving water security and encouraging sustainability.
In Niger, FAO launched the system at an experimental centre in Winditan in 2005, with financial support from Libya and Monaco, which donated US$99 500 and US$9 000 respectively. The centre offers 1.5 hectare parcels of land to each of the eight families living on the site. Men grow potatoes, cabbage, squash, tomato, onions and pepper, while women do stock breeding with animals provided by FAO. The centre also hosts a training facility, where farmers from the area receive training in a variety of agricultural practices.
“Now, I can support my family,” says Amadou Larabou, 34, holding up a bundle of freshly harvested potatoes. He adds that, on the potatoes alone, he has earned 100 000 Francs CFA (€ 150) off his land at the centre over the last four months.
That is a dramatic change, considering that Amadou, like thousands of Nigerien men, typically migrate to Niamey or abroad every year in search of income during the long dry season from October to May. “Sometimes, after three or four months without work in Niamey, I would be obliged to ask for money,” he says.
“Working together with our development partners, FAO can provide its technical expertise,” Ms Semedo says. “But what counts most are the farmers. They have the will to change their lives.”
Following its successful introduction in Winditan, FAO now plans to spread drip irrigation throughout the country. “Even with less rain, it allows you to irrigate,” Ms Semedo says. She smiles: “It means that we can be a lot less dependant on the heavens!”
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