|What is Drip Irrigation?
Drip irrigation is especially developed for crop production
in dry climates where water supply is limited. A system of tubes
delivers water slowly and directly to each plant. Although the
technique was developed for commercial farming (mainly in Israel
and the USA) it has high potential of
helping small-scale farmers grow vegetables during the long
The first advantage is a great reduction in the amount of water
needed for growing vegetables. Other kinds of irrigation, including
hand watering, need many times more water than drip-
irrigation. The amount of water used on small plots of vegetables
can easily be regulated, just
by noting the amount of water poured into the reservoirs. Two
10-litre buckets per day are
When water for hand irrigation is too little or must be carried
from a distant well or tap, this can mean not having any fresh
vegetables for long periods, or spending limited income at the
markets. Drip irrigation can change this.
Another advantage is labor saving. A farmer or her children
can irrigate a plot quickly by filling
the reservoir (in this case the bucket see photo) once
or twice each day. For large plots,
watering all the plants by hand throughout the growing seasons
is often the most time-consuming part of the job.
With drip-irrigation, there are not as many weeds to control
as almost all the water goes directly
to the planted crop. There are fewer diseases problems that
come from solid being splashed onto
the plants during hand watering such as the various mould
and powdery mildew (fungal)
A small-scale system like the one, which appears in the photograph,
is not expensive. For the equivalent of about $20 the needed
materials (including the two buckets) can be bought.
Experience from different countries shows that the materials
used if well-cared for- can last
for five years or longer.
Farmers or extension officers need some initial training on
how best to use this kind of irrigation.
The training is not easily available (see contacts at the end).
The materials are also not yet widely available, especially
outside the big cities.
Unfortunately, few locally based organizations are supplying
this equipment in a form (such as a complete kit) thatmakes
the technology more accessible to farmers. Hopefully this will
the demand increase.
Where to Use Drip Irrigation
The ideal place to use drip irrigation is near the household,
where a small plot of vegetables may
be planted for home needs. It is less practical for community
groups, unless the group can invest
in several units/systems, to allow each individual plot to have
its own system. Trying to move one
or two systems around to irrigate different plots during the
growing season causes damage to the irrigation tubes, and the
Perhaps in your locality there is a school or other training
center involved in promoting gardens.
This can be an ideal site to use drip-irrigation as long as
someone is there to manage it well, and explain how it works
Material needed is included in the drawing below and are numbered.
For the purpose of this
technical brief the prices of the different items are not given
as these vary a lot from one country
The basic materials include;
A- Some buckets or other containers and a simple support structure
(B) to raise them at least
one meter above the ground. This is the minimum height needed
to give enough pressure to
the system. 2- A water outlet fitting and small filter (3)
which is very important for keeping
sand from blocking the drip-lines
4- connector tubes to direct water from the buckets to
the drip line (5)
6- two lengths of commercial "drip lines" these are
made of specially manufactured drip-irrigation pipe.
More detailed drawings of the parts of the system appear on
the next page. All these can be obtained together in the form
of something called a "bucket kit" see last
page for contact information.
Note: Some people have attempted
to use ordinary garden hose in place of the specialized drip
tubes. But this has proven impractical for two reasons. First
the garden hose is MORE expensive
than the drip-irrigation lines. Second it is impossible to make
holes by hand which are very small
and only allow the water to be applied slowly and evenly along
the length of the hose. The result
will be some plants get too much water while others get too
little or none. Given the expense the results are unsatisfactory
and the hose is destroyed for any other use.
A Simplified Se-up
Ok, lets suppose you have decided to try using drip irrigation
at your local training center and
have managed to find a source shown on these pages. Bravo!
You are one of the innovators.
First you must select a good planting areas and prepare it
(do not make it too BIG). Next
construct a simple bucket-rack or stand like the one pictured
above at the right.
Third carefully cut a hole in each bucket just large enough
for the rubber ring
1. Assemble the
2. a and 2b and connect the filter plug
3 with the connecting tubes attached to it
4. Next pour some clean water into the bucket to flush out
any dust or dirt in the connecting tubes and then connect
the drip-lines according to the directions provided. Before
closing off the end of each drip-line
5 pour a litre or two of clean water into the bucket to wash
out any sand or foreign material in the lines.
Clogged drip lines are the main problem with drip irrigation.
Always pour the water through a fine cloth placed over the
bucket to catch sand or silt.
It takes only an hour or so to assemble all the parts and
test the lines by filling up the bucket to
see if water is coming out at all the points along each drip
line. If any are clogged, they can be cleared by blowing into
them and then flushing the line by opening up either end to
let the water escape.
The plot is ready to be planted. If you have never used drip
irrigation before, it is best to visit another farmer who
has some experience, as there are always local conditions
and tips to learn.
For example, if termites get attracted to the plot it is important
to spread ashes or other repellents as they can also chew
the drip tubes (although they are more likely to go for the
wood of the bucket stand, so protect that too).
NOTE: Not every detail in setting
up a drip-irrigation system is provided here. We just mention
the main points to give you some idea of how it works. It
should be emphasized that this
technical section is not intended to be a complete instruction
guide for the technology, but a
good introduction to raise your awareness and stimulate your
Some Helpful Contacts
The contacts provided on p.4 are places where complete system
kits can be obtained including instructions on
setting them up and using the system.
Janice is a farmer from Western Kenya who purchased a drip-kit
from the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) after
seeing a demonstration at a local farmer-training center.
was impressed by how simple it looked and its low cost and
especially the idea of being able to
grow fresh greens even during a drought.
With help from the local extension agent, Janice prepared
a small garden plot of two beds near
her house, each 1.5 wide x 15 metres long. With the same equipment
as seen in the drawing by Sidy, she planted four rows of different
vegetables, tomatoes, onions, kales and other local herbs.
Twice each day, one of her young boys would fill both buckets
from the village hand-pump. Using less than 40 litres of water
a day, Janice soon had more vegetables than she needed and
began sharing the surplus with her neighbors or selling some
of her tomatoes at the market. Now she
plans to purchase another bucket system from KARI to expand
her garden and get some income from the vegetables. Green
vegetables can fetch a much better price during the dry season.
One problem she had was with clogged drip-tubes. It was difficult
to always filter the water
properly. After some experiment, she learned how to clear
the "emitters" by blowing into them
and flushing out the particles with a little clean water.
Before long, many of her neighbors were coming to see how
this new technology works and some of them have also purchased
One time her neighbour asked "Dont you fear a thief
will come at night and steal your buckets?"
to which Janice replied, "Well they have been there for
four months and no one has tried. Besides, they have large
holes in the bottom. Who would want a bucket with a big hole
Kenya Agricultural Research Center,
P O Box 14733,
Tel: 254 2 444029/030,
Fax: 254 2 443956
P O Box 490, Watertown,
NY, 13601, USA,
Kenya Rainwater Association
P.O Box 72387,
ALIN has also
published a book on Drip Irrigation.
This is available on request at a small fee