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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

The 1989 agricultural census indicated an irrigated area of 5 435 ha (Table 4). It is considered that this is still the same in 2005. The island’s drinking water supply is used extensively by small farmers as their irrigation water supply. Even though strictly speaking this water would fall under municipal water withdrawal, for clarity purposes we have added all water used for irrigation under agricultural water withdrawal. There are also about 120 private hand-dug wells which are mainly used for irrigation. In the past many of the shallower wells were equipped with windmills but today the electric submersible pump is the norm. There is some relatively limited use of dams, springs, streams, roof catchments and road-catchments.

There is extensive use of conventional sprinkler systems and drip irrigation systems for vegetables, fruit and horticultural crops. Drip irrigation has been widely used both by farmers and for landscaping. There is no surface irrigation (basin, furrow, flood recession) in the conventional sense, but the term is used to include the use of garden-hose flooding and hand-watering. The government offers rebate incentives for the use of sprinkler and drip irrigation systems.

In 1989, around 90 percent of the area equipped for irrigation was irrigated by groundwater (Figure 3).

There is relatively little direct use of wastewater for irrigation. A few hotels treat their wastewater and directly use it for irrigating lawns and gardens. Also a number of private homes run part of their wastewater to fruit trees or small banana patches in the backyard.

There are two government-financed and operated irrigation schemes providing a piped, on-demand, pressurized water supply. In Saint Lucy in the north of the island, there is the Spring Hall Land Lease Project (land settlement project) with 22 farmer/family leased plots of land averaging about 10 ha each. The second scheme is the Rural Development Programme in the south, made up of individual irrigation systems servicing over 250 farmer-owned plots averaging less than one hectare each. The systems are now quite dependable and small farmers rely upon them heavily during the dry season.

The Irrigation Engineering Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture serves government-financed irrigation systems in twelve irrigation districts, of which ten in the south (four in Saint Philip, four in Christ Church and two in Saint Michael parishes), and two in the north (one in Saint Lucy and one in Saint Andrew parishes). Water is sourced from 21 wells, 17 of which are leased from private owners (MoA, 2015).

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, economy and society

Regularly produced crops include tomatoes, cucumbers, hot peppers, sweet peppers, onion, carrot and beet. Other irrigated crops include citrus, bananas, plantains and cut-flowers. Irrigated vegetable farmers can get three crops in a season.

Women and irrigation

The majority of labour involved in land preparation, weeding, crop protection and irrigation is undertaken by women. The equipment used by women in the farms are mainly hand tools (such as fork, hoe, rake and shovel), irrigation equipment (hoses, overhead sprinkler systems and drip or trickle irrigation systems) and sprayers for application of crop protection chemicals. Forty-three percent of the female family members use the irrigation equipment, compared to only three percent of the male family members (Harvey, 1996).

Status and evolution of drainage systems

There is little drainage work carried out by private farmers. In some areas, beds are raised in the wet season to facilitate better drainage in the root zone. Generally, none of the drainage work is traditionally linked to surface irrigation or a high water table. The Soil Conservation Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture has carried out substantial land stabilization works in Scotland district. The drainage of surface and subsurface flows is essential for this land stabilization. The flows are channeled safely via gabion structures to storage reservoirs or to stream courses which flow into the sea. Little of this water is used for irrigation, and little quantification is made of the stream flow and irrigation potential in the area. Plans are being put in place to utilize some of this water for irrigation.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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