Agricultural experts from the Australian National University (ANU) have partnered with government agencies and NGOs in sub-Saharan Africa to improve irrigation systems and boost agricultural production.
Researchers’ work improves food security, reduces water wastage and lifts people out of poverty.
“This simple restart of irrigation systems made up of small farms could help eradicate poverty in farming communities around the world,” said Professor Jamie Pittock of the ANU Fenner School of Environment and Society.
The Transforming Irrigation in Southern Africa project empowers farmers by giving them the knowledge and tools to regularly grow high-yielding and profitable crops while minimizing water consumption. The research is published in Natural food.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in infrastructure to support irrigation systems and grow profitable crops, but unfortunately crop yields in Africa are very low and often not much better than those on arid farms that surround them, ”said Professor Pittock.
“Africa has one of the largest populations living in rural areas who depend on agriculture for their livelihood, but unfortunately irrigation systems have traditionally been a failing sector across the continent.
“Our interventions aimed to restart these failed irrigation systems so that they produce food reliably, be profitable and lift people out of poverty.”
This reboot of the system involves providing farmers with easy-to-use tools – developed by CSIRO – to help them measure whether the soil in their fields is moist enough and contains enough nutrients to grow a high-yielding crop. This allows farmers to make their own decisions rather than depending on government assistance.
This new intervention was found to be more effective than the old government-led methods used to grow crops in which farmers were advised to apply specific amounts of fertilizer to grow crops such as maze or maze. But.
“What we found was that governments weren’t helping farmers do a simple assessment of the costs and lost profits of the crops they were growing, so we provided farmers with basic field books. to help them calculate what it will cost to grow a crop and the necessary workforce and determine how much income they will get from growing that crop, ”said Professor Pittock.
Professor Pittock says these simple but effective interventions have proven to be “revolutionary” as farmers minimize their water consumption.
“Before that, they would put too much water in their fields and actually flood their crops. Knowing how much water they need to grow their crops means that farmers conserve water and save up to two working days per week, which can be spent on other livelihood activities, ”he said. he declared.
“There is also more water available to support other farmers and rivers.
“Because farmers are no longer fighting over water, they are starting to work together to share resources and help each other to maximize food production in the region. – a necessary boost to the economy. “
Although this intervention has been “extremely successful” in helping farmers grow food, Professor Pittock says growing high-yielding crops means nothing if farmers flood the market with produce and lower the price of that food to a low. point such that they are not very profitable for them to grow it.
To address this problem, ANU researchers facilitated conversations between farmers and buyers to give them market insight and inform their farming decisions.
“When farmers start to have this dialogue with buyers, they can then work together to negotiate a planting schedule so that they are continually producing crops that are in demand,” Professor Pittock said.
“Once the farmers know what quality of product the buyers want and expect, all of a sudden they get much higher prices for their product.
“We have also introduced farmers to seed and fertilizer suppliers and since they are now cooperating with each other, farmers are starting to buy quality inputs in bulk, which reduces their overhead costs as they pay less than what they paid. were when they were buying only for themselves.
“We have since interviewed the farmers we have worked with who told us that with the extra money they now have, they are buying more nutritious food for their families, investing in health care and paying for their children. have an education. .
“These types of techniques used to equip farmers with the necessary knowledge could make a huge difference in terms of supporting more sustainable development and will be essential in helping poorer members of society in rural areas to obtain better means of living. subsistence.”