Mechanised irrigation project could empower farmers

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Windhoek

More than 6 000 small scale farmers from Omahanene in the Omusati Region in the west, to Eenhana in the Ohangwena Region in the east, could be empowered by an ambitious mechanised irrigation project using water from the Calueque/Oshakati water carrier.

Inventor of the enhanced irrigation method through shared mechanised water distribution, JC Behr, says his planned Northern Namibia Mechanised Irrigation Project could also supply thousands with direct seasonal jobs and assist in eradicating poverty – something that President Hage Geingob recently declared war on. Behr says during the development of his project, results showed that 40 small-scale farmers can be established and empowered on 1 000 hectares of land where they will be able to plant both summer and winter crops. “Test trials have shown that a producer in these areas can harvest enough to support his/her family well above the breadline,” he notes.

He says his method diverts from the traditional systems that use drip and flood irrigation and rotating sprayers or pivot point irrigation. “The disadvantage of these methods is that they are limited to single users, and on a small scale. Pivot point irrigation can irrigate bigger pieces of land but are very costly. This makes it very difficult for start-up and small-scale farmers to implement and use, according to him. Behr says the disadvantage of pivot point irrigation systems is that it is limited to single users and on small scale. Pivot point irrigation can irrigate bigger pieces of land but is very costly. This makes it very difficult for start-up and small-scale farmers to implement and use. The objective of mechanised irrigation is to optimise land usage and for the equal support and distribution of resources such as land, water, irrigation, fertilisers, insecticides and pesticides. It further aims to establish and empower 40 small scale farmers on 1 000 hectares pieces of land from Omahanene in the west to Eenhana in the east. The planned amount of land to be developed over the next two years is 150 000 hectares. This will empower some 6 000 small farmers and create thousands of seasonal jobs and ensure the equal distribution of resources such as land, water, fertilsers, insecticides and pesticides, and to optimise land usage for the cultivation of various sustainable grains, vegetables, cut flowers, fruit and other diversified crops such as cotton and sugar cane. “More jobs will be created by facilities such as mills, cold storage and processing facilities,” says Behr adding that the Agricultural Marketing and Trade Agency (AMTA) could play an important role in the distribution of fresh produce from these farmers. The total objective is to also establish smaller farms of 50 000 hectares in the regions of Kavango and Caprivi empowering 10 000 small farmers and creating some 150 000 seasonal jobs.

A big disadvantage of a pivot point system is that every pivot point has its own water supply, resulting in an elaborate pipe and pump system. Water management must be well worked out in order to give every farmer time to irrigate his/her field. Other disadvantages include high financial burden on a farmer, wasted space between fields, elaborate water supply network, dependency on electricity, and the fact that fertilisers, pesticides and insecticides must be sprayed by means of mechanical spray systems. This results in high input cost per hectare.

Behr’s mechanised irrigation system works from the mother canal system. It has a mobile self-propelled unit with a generator that supplies electricity to the water pumps. The unit runs on tracks that are situated on both sides of a small canal. The pumps suck the water directly from the canal and feed it to the spraying arms. The mobile unit and the spray arms move together forward on the tracks. This enables it to spray very long and wide strips of fields. His system will use a reservoir fed by pump from the mother canal. The advantages thereof are shared costs by small farmers with a reduction in the financial burden. Farmers also share resources like equipment and expertise, utilise land optimally and render a simple water supply system that is not dependent on electricity as it is diesel driven and the generator can be driven on sunflower oil, reducing the cost drastically.

Behr says liquid fertilisers, pesticides, and insecticides can be mixed into the water ensuring equal distribution of the crops. He estimates that maize crop yield of eight tonnes per hectare will be achieved, and the system will allow for a huge variety of other crops and tropical fruit, as well as cut flowers to be planted. He says his project has been greeted with great enthusiasm by Professor Rainer Trede, a development consultant for southern Africa. His biggest challenge will be to obtain permission from the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to extract water from the canal. Correspondence to that extent has been started and he plans to make an official presentation of his project soon. Start-up capital for the project will be about N$5 million but Behr is confident sponsors will come to the party once he has secured a water supply source.

Reiterating Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa’s call for Namibian producers to plant every hectare available for irrigation, Behr says his project could make a huge contribution to ensure food security at all times.

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