The Future of Farming: Smart Community Irrigation Solutions

The Future of Farming: Smart Community Irrigation Solutions

With inputs from Ramdas Battalwar, Business Head CI, Netafim India.

The world has been living in the ignorant belief for centuries that “We’ll always have enough water for ourselves” Water is essential for life.  However, the unthinkable has unfortunately happened, and right now 43 countries, which comprise about 700 million people across the globe, are facing worrying levels of water crisis. The United Nations further estimates that as early as 2025, two-thirds of the population of the world will be suffering in water-stressed regions.

Another issue that’s hitting the world at an alarming rate is the world population growth. Increasing population is directly proportional to surging food demand, traditional agricultural itself consumes nearly 70% of the water available globally. Studies show that 2050 will witness a 50% increase in the demand of water for agriculture. The global water scene looks quite appalling.

Are the depleting natural resources the only problem?

No, not really. While resources are indeed a limitation, it’s usage patterns also play a major role. Traditional agricultural practices have been responsible for inefficient water usage for decades. Smallholders and rural communities who function under many disadvantages like lack of access to capital and markets, are forced to adopt unsustainable agricultural practices for their own survival. The absence of knowledge and sustainable practices further causes land degradation, which leads to the decrease in the per capita availability of arable land.  

To break this vicious cycle, and most importantly, to ensure that the smallholder communities can thrive, decision makers need to take urgent steps for creating conducive agricultural ecosystems.

What is Community Irrigation?

The idea of community irrigation rose from the simple underlying principle of bringing the entire agricultural community together, along with the government and the private sector, to establish a systematic and sustainable irrigation practices. It is a holistic approach to sustainably manage all the natural resources and provide the small stakeholders with the necessary infrastructure for sustainable farming practices. The collaboration of the government and the private sector further ensures that the quality of life of these rural communities is improved, they are encouraged to adopt advanced technologies, and institutional policies are implemented for sustainable usage of natural resources.

The ideology of Community Irrigation stands on three primary pillars:

  1. Advanced and innovative technologies
  2. Bulk supply of water from the source to the field
  3. Farmers’ success initiatives, like training centers, on-site agronomic and technical support, easy access to the local markets etc.
India Ramthal, farmers at work

Why is Community Irrigation the Need of the Hour?

Community Irrigation is not only beneficial for the individual stakeholders, but is immensely advantageous for the entire world, that relies on water and adequate agricultural produce. The primary benefits of switching to this mode of irrigation include: 

  • The efficiency of available water usage is increased to about 80% - 90% (while traditional canal water distribution network and gravity furrow irrigation suffer from 40% efficiency or less).
  • The efficiency of fertilizer usage is also increased to about 80% - 90%
  • A more equitable distribution of available water, regardless of farmers’ field location and distance from water source. 
  • A large expanse of farmland can be sufficiently irrigated with the same amount of available water, due to high irrigation efficiency the irrigated area might be doubles by the same volume of water in comparison to traditional furrow irrigation. 
  • Due to efficient use of water and fertilizers, the yield per unit land improves, the drip irrigation technology allows for low irrigation rate which results in best and uniform distribution around the root zone, compelled multiplied with much better aeration in soil, results in yield improvements. 
  • The systematic and sustainable farm management leads to a significantly increased farm output
  • An easy-to-manage farm and increased production improves the standard of living of the farming community
  • It ensures significant savings on the land acquisition cost, due to installing the bulk water supply in underground pressurized pipelines. 
Community Irrigation project - Ramthal India

Netafim at the Forefront of Community Irrigation

Netafim’s community drip irrigation project in Ramthal, India, is the largest of its kind in Asia, and one which opened the gates to other successful community irrigation projects in the region. The project has implemented a network of pressurized pipelines from a sole source, for delivering drip irrigated water to the designated area. A new system of distribution pipelines was built to transfer water from the reservoirs and canals to where it was needed in the most efficient way possible.  Furthermore, a system of filtration was introduced to make sure that the quality of the water was of a high standard, a FertigationTM system introduces dissolved fertilizer with the irrigation water. This of course has led to local farmers being able to produce a greater yield at a lower cost. Apart from offering smooth and sustainable farming activities, this project has also ensured social peace, by ensuring equal distribution of water to all the farmers, and gradually bringing prosperity to the drought ridden areas. 

Netafim's Tarikere and Singatalur 1 community irrigation projects in India cover 25,000 hectares approximately   and will help ~30,000 smallholders' farmers to grow more with less with drip irrigation. Trained by Netafim Agronomy team, the local farmers will be able to use precision irrigation and the latest digital agricultural tools to more than double their crop yield and reduce the dependency on rains – changing lives for the better!

Community irrigation Farmer Meeting

Successful Community Irrigation Projects Around the World

Columbia Water Center’s Project in Mali, Africa
Aiming to improve the farm production and food security, this project has provided aid to the farmers in several ways. The project offered loans to the farmers for purchasing advanced equipment like pumps and engines, expert technicians were employed to install the equipment and train the farmers and a community fund was set up. This project has boosted the livelihood of over 3,212 families and improved over 313 farms.

Rani Jamara Kulariya Irrigation Project, Nepal
While the government was failing to manage the equitable distribution of water in the region, this project showed the light, by focusing on modernization of the irrigation system, strengthening the association of the water users, and educating and training the farmers. This project has benefitted about 25,000 agricultural households, most of which are from the backward and indigenous Tharu community. 

The future of water in our planet looked bleak but through research and implementation of good practice and new water management systems, the water crisis we currently face can be averted.

Click here to know more about community irrigation projects.
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