Wednesday July 27 2011

Makerere introduces low cost irrigation systems

By JOSEPH MITI

Many farmers, particularly small-scale farmers who solely depend on rain as a source of water to the crops, have continued to lose 100 per cent of the crops, increasing fears of famine. These unpredictable rain patterns caused by weather changes are pushing farmers to the edge as more cases of crop failure increase in the country.

But, according to a survey done by Makerere University, most of the farmers have water sources near their farms but they are not using them for irrigation.

“Most farmers don’t know about irrigation technologies. Interestingly, even the rich wait for rain,” Mr Joseph Byaruhanga, an associate Professor at Uganda Gatsby, Makerere University says.

Although Uganda is gifted by lakes, rivers and swamps, where water for irrigation can be tapped, it is still ranked among the countries with the least irrigation coverage in Africa. Africa irrigates about 13.4 hectares (34 million acres or one percent of the arable land), but most of it is in Egypt, which uses River Nile water.

Countries like India and China’s irrigation coverage is at 22 per cent and 40 per cent respectively. Bangladesh has 1.3 million pumps and is able to irrigate 200 million acres of rice.

Mr Byaruhanga says most of the farmers they visited during the survey, thought irrigation technologies were too expensive for small holder farmers. “We also found out that some of the major impediments to developing irrigation has been lack of energy source to move water from the source to the fields. The much larger volumes of water needed for crop irrigation can only be provided by mechanical means,” he adds.

However, under the Presidential Initiative Project, Makerere College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology has designed and manufactured different types of low cost irrigation systems to eliminate the impediments. The innovative project is among several research projects funded by President Museveni.

According to Byaruhanga, the college has manufactured a solar powered system which can deliver 20,000 litres of water per day and can irrigate an area of 10 to 15 acres depending on the water source.

He says they have also manufactured a coupled pump, which can pump 50 litres per minute (3,000 per hour).

He says the pump will cost about Shs250,000 ($100) and Shs480,000 with a drive. This is more affordable to small-scale farmers compared to an imported Chinese version which costs more than $360 (about Shs900,000).

“With time, the costs will be reduced even further and made more affordable,” he told the Presidential Initiativeproject dissemination workshop in Kampala on July 21.

The development, however, comes at a time when government is planning to implement massive irrigation to increase production.

Mr Byaruhanga says in places where the machines have been tested, farmers have liked the technology.
He adds that they have realised that irrigation is not expensive and that they can grow crops at any time and harvest throughout the year.

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