Drip irrigation for Small Scale farmers
In many North African countries, producing vegetables in places where rainfall is unreliable is
done using drip-irrigation. The technology is slowly becoming available to farmers in dry land
regions of Africa, but there is a long way to go. This technical section gives an introduction to
the idea, details on how it works, and where to get it in certain countries. If you are interested
in giving this technology a try, but you are far from one of the contacts listed at the end, write
to the ALIN secretariat.
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 dry seasons.

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
usually enough.
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 change as
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 plants too.
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 to visitors.
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
to another.

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
water outlet
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 interest.

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. She
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 their own
drip systems.
One time her neighbour asked "Don’t 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 in it?"

Isaya Sijali,
Kenya Agricultural Research Center,
P O Box 14733,
Nairobi, Kenya,
Tel: 254 2 444029/030,
Fax: 254 2 443956

Richard Chapin,
Chapin Watermatics,
P O Box 490, Watertown,
NY, 13601, USA,
Fax: 315078201490,
Email: Rchapin@imnet.net

Kenya Rainwater Association
P.O Box 72387,
Email: kra@net2000ke.com

ALIN has also published a book on Drip Irrigation.
This is available on request at a small fee

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