Workshop aims to bring small-scale irrigation to African farmers


Workshop aims to bring small-scale irrigation to African farmers

Nepalese workers digging a tube well

Food production in African countries whose populations suffer from high rates of chronic malnutrition could be boosted by the use of irrigation technology and equipment introduced from Asia, according to FAO's Water Resources, Development and Management Service. To accelerate the process, the Service organized a workshop in Harare, Zimbabwe, from 14 to 17 April to promote the use of low-cost, water-saving irrigation technology by small-scale farmers in East and Southern Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, only four percent of arable land is irrigated, as compared to 24 percent in Northern Africa, 37 percent in Asia and 15 percent in Latin America. Currently, most irrigation equipment in the area is imported from Europe, Israel, South Africa and the United States. More often than not it is prohibitively expensive and inappropriate for use by small-scale farmers. Even where equipment is locally manufactured, as in Kenya and Zimbabwe, costs are still high, probably because of lack of competition, the small size of the market and adverse taxes and tariffs.

The meeting in Harare brought together government officials, irrigation equipment manufacturers, farmers and non-governmental organizations from Asia and Africa to produce a set of action-oriented recommendations to promote irrigation technology transfer and adoption, communal water development and management for small-scale irrigation and water conservation, and the strengthening of national capacities in the field. The action programmes recommended by the Workshop would strengthen the water control component of the Special Programme for Food Security, which is currently operational in five of the countries that participated in the Workshop (Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia).

Discussions focused on low-cost technologies such as human-powered and small motor pumps, drip and sprinkler systems, and water storage systems. Techniques of low-cost well construction were also covered, as another important way of making irrigation accessible to small-scale farmers.

Emphasis was also put on meeting progressive small-scale farmers' needs for modern and efficient pumping and on-farm irrigation technologies, and on the need to train technicians, extension workers and farmers in the construction and management of micro-dams and river diversions.

Treadle pumps are one example of Asian irrigation equipment that is being successfully introduced in Africa. These human-powered pumps have brought irrigation within the reach of millions of small and marginal farmers. They are used in Cambodia, India and Viet Nam and have been particularly successful in Bangladesh. In 1991, half a million treadle pumps were being used in that country. With an estimated annual return to the user of about US$100 for each pump, the 500 000 treadle pumps accounted for one-third of the agricultural sector's total contribution to the country's gross national product.

A young Zambian woman tries out a treadle pump
Under FAO's Partnership Programme for Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC), Dominique Sarkar, an irrigation expert from International Development Enterprises in Bangladesh, visited Zambia in July 1996. As part of the Irrigation component of the Special Programme for Food Security, he installed, tested and demonstrated treadle pumps in various parts of the country. The Zambian farmers, who usually draw water by bucket from ponds and shallow wells for their vegetable plots, were enthusiastic about the ease with which the treadle pumps were installed and the volume of water pumped.

In 1997 FAO is assisting in the importation of 1 000 treadle pumps from Bangladesh to Zambia and training Zambian farmers on how to install and operate the pumps. At the same time, they are working to establish a local manufacturing capacity in the African country. Sarkar will shortly be returning to Zambia to train local manufacturers in the production and servicing of the treadle pump. Work is also being done to make the pump design as appropriate as possible to the African farmers' needs.

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21 April 1997


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