Using Irrigation to bring life to barren land

Raindrops are like liquid gold to farmers in the poorest countries of the world. Yet when the rains do come - and in many places they come erratically or with decreasing frequency - with no irrigation techniques available, most of that precious moisture is washed away, unused. Land is so dehydrated that they are unable to grow enough produce even to sustain their families, there seems to be no way out.

Practical Action is working with communities to introduce simple yet effective irrigation systems to combat the issue. So instead of parched, dusty fields, there are life-giving gardens brimming with hearty fruit and vegetables or sturdy columns of maize, year after year.

Drip Irrigation

Even if rainfall is low or erratic, the drip irrigation system enables farmers to nourish and grow the crops they need.

This is how it works:

  • A large, water harvesting tank in the village catches the rain and stores it.
  • A farmer fills a 20-litre drip bucket and places it one metre above the ground on poles.
  • The drip bucket is attached to a long hose that criss-crosses the crop field.
  • Simple gravity provides enough pressure to force the water through the hose.
  • Water drips through the holes in the hose, directly onto the roots of the plants.
  • 100-200 plants can be grown using just one drip bucket system

Treadle pump irrigation

Able to be operated by one or two adults, the treadle pump uses pedal power to suck water up from wells up to 7.5m deep at a rate of up to 18m3 per hour – that’s six times more water than from a traditional hand pump. What’s more, because leg muscles tire less than arm muscles, it can also be used by the farmers for longer. And because most of the parts are manufactured locally, it also brings much needed income to the local economy.

Read more about treadle pump irrigation, and their impact in Nepal

How Mahima Gharti rescued her community through farming

Forced to flee from conflict in her native village, Mrs Mahima Gharti migrated to the Shanti-tole settlement in Kathmandu with her family to start afresh. But soon their dreams lay in tatters. Saline had rendered the 1/6th hectare of land they had bought barren. Faced with a heartbreaking choice, Mahima’s husband was forced to leave his family behind and migrate to India to find work. Mahima was left to work as a labourer – and bring up their five children – alone.

But after hearing Practical Action staff talk at a village meeting, Mahima was determined to turn things around. After forming a women’s farming group in Shanti-tole with five of the poorest families in the settlement, they found a suitable plot and set to work.

With the help of Practical Action, the women are now skilled in vegetable and seed cultivation. As Mahima told us, “We used to scatter seeds but, after training, I now know how to make nurseries and transplant into the main field.” To her and her children’s delight, this meant her husband could return home, where he now works the land using a treadle pump. Mahima’s farming group have now set up a savings plan and are able to produce at least three crops a year. Mahima expects to earn around NPRs 10,000 a year (around £75) from her hard work – money that means her family will be able to stay together.

Raghu Raj Chaudhari from Badariya, South-west Nepal

Raghu Raj Chaudhari lives with his wife and three children in Badariya in the Kailali district of South-west Nepal. With no land of his own, he worked as a daily labourer but his income was barely enough to feed his family, his children stopped attending school and he often had to borrow money.

With Practical Action’s help a farmers’ group of landless labourers was formed. Between them this group leased 24 kaththas (8,000 sq metres) of land and undertook training on improved methods of vegetable cultivation. They were also provided with seeds, fertilisers, spray tanks and a deep bore for irrigation.

Raghu describes how his life has changed. “I have been working on farms for the last 16 years but never had the opportunity to learn new methods of cultivation,” he says. “With the training I can now grow both seasonal and out of season vegetables, raise nurseries and harvest vegetables at the right time.”

He now reaps three harvests a year and makes a good income. He has purchased a water buffalo, replaced his rice straw roof with galvanised roofing sheets, re-admitted his children to school and no longer needs to borrow money.

With £18, three families could have enough seeds to plant both this year and next. £35 could train seven people in basic crop husbandry during the all-important growing season: selecting not only the right crops but the required amount of water, fertilizer and shade. £105 is enough to pay for everything needed to make a drip irrigation kit, or £62 could pay for a treadle pump.

With your support, we’ve reached out to many people with these technologies.

Please help us carry on doing the same for others. It could turn their dry, dusty patches of land into lush, fertile gardens of tomatoes, beans, pumpkins, okra, onions or maize.

You can also help us by sharing this page with your Facebook friends and Twitter followers

You can download further information on irrigation from Practical Answers, the technical information service of Practical Action.

If you have a question about this technology, you can submit a technical enquiry to the Practical Answers team.

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