By Watipaso Mzungu:
In Mndolera Extension Planning Area (EPA), a group of selected small-scale horticulture farmers is experimenting with drip irrigation technology as a measure to build resilience to climate change while boosting production.
The African Institute for Corporate Citizenship (AICC) introduced this modern approach to smallholder horticulture production in partnership with Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) under Commercial Agribusiness for Sustainable Horticulture (Cash) Project.
The major goal of the project is to boost production and productivity to a level where some of the profits can be re-invested for further growth.
Drip irrigation is a type of micro-irrigation system that has the potential to save water and nutrients by allowing water to drip slowly to the roots of plants, either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface.
In other areas, the technology is called trickle irrigation and involves dripping water onto the soil at very low rates (2-20 litres/ hour) from a system of small diameter plastic pipes fitted with outlets called emitters or drippers.
Water is applied close to plants so that only part of the soil in which the roots grow is wetted, unlike surface and sprinkler irrigation, which involves wetting the whole soil profile.
With drip irrigation water, applications are more frequent (usually every one to three days) than with other methods and this provides a very favourable high moisture level in the soil in which plants can flourish.
Drip irrigation is most suitable for row crops (vegetables, soft fruit), tree and vine crops where one or more emitters can be provided for each plant.
Generally, only high value crops are considered because of the high capital costs of installing a drip system.
It is adaptable to any farmable slope. Normally the crop would be planted along contour lines and the water supply pipes (laterals) would be laid along the contour also. This is done to minimise changes in emitter discharge as a result.
Drip irrigation is suitable for most soils. On clay soils, water must be applied slowly to avoid surface water ponding and runoff.
On sandy soils, higher emitter discharge rates will be needed to ensure adequate lateral wetting of the soil.
The main goal is to place water directly into the root zone and minimise evaporation.
Agricultural experts say this technology is capable of boosting production to a level where some of the profits can be re-invested for further growth.
Forty-six-year-old Matchetcha Custom was one of the farmers who have embraced the technology at the tone in Kamtepa Village, in Traditional Authority, (T/A) Dzoole, in Dowa Distirct.
“I like this technology because it is not labour intensive. In our local language, we call this technology mtakeni because we no longer have to use watering cans to irrigate our crops. This helps us save time to do other equally important assignments to improve our livelihoods,” Custom says.
Cash project manager, Emmanuel Mponya, says the project is complementing Young Innovative Farmer Initiative and the Sustainable Lead Farmer projects, which AICC is implementing in Dowa.
Mponya explains that the main objective of the project is to increase profitability for smallholder farmers through drip irrigation and to increase production and productivity of horticultural produce.
He also says the logic behind this action is to increase access to profitable input and output horticulture markets to stimulate market-oriented horticultural production.
“The impact of the project will include the creation of sustainable employment opportunities for the youth and women involved as agripreneurs. The overall goal of the project is to contribute towards sustainable horticulture production that will result in smallholder farmers’ increase in income and consequently leading to poverty reduction in Mndolera EPA in Dowa,” he says.
Using the concept of taking farming as a business; the project has engaged smallholder farmers as potential business entities and as an investor in horticulture business against the popular hand out element that most projects ride.
The project has adopted the local value chain development approach and is also integrating women and youths in the horticulture value chain as effective approaches for improving access to markets as well as inputs.
Thus, under the project, AICC and NCA have sourced and made available the micro-investment kits, which are complete in terms of inputs and knowledge support.
“We have public private partners whom AICC uses across its programmes to bring on board private sector players to support the promotion of micro-investment kits while also providing an available market for the smallholder farmers to sell their horticulture produce in Mndolera EPA and beyond,” Mponya narrates.
Geoffrey Kuphanga— the Agricultural Extension Development Coordinator for Mndolera EPA—says the drip irrigation technology has created a lot of excitement among the small-scale farmers in the district.
“It’s more exciting that the technology uses less chemical fertilisers than the other methods. This means farmers will invest less input and get high returns per harvest,” Kuphanga explains.