Farmers in Northern Tanzania are undertaking an ambitious irrigation project

Farmers in Northern Tanzania are undertaking an ambitious irrigation project

in News

The North eastern part of Tanzania has some impressive landscapes. With Mount Kilimanjaro in the background, the districts of Moshi and Simanjiro are home to acres and acres of beautiful agricultural land, interspersed with the occasional baobab tree.

Even so, life for small holder farmers is not always that easy here. As more and more people move in to live and work near the Rau and Kikuletwa river, and rains are getting less predictable, the water level of the rivers is declining. Lower water levels put pressure on traditional farming methods, which depend on rain and irrigation canals, resulting in failed harvests and a rise in conflicts between farmers.

“Also with traditional irrigation technologies, water losses in the field are high as they use open canal to apply water to the crops. There’s an urgent need for the introduction of more efficient irrigation methods and the development of a more sustainable way of farming. The changing climate gives us no other choice.”, says Gerald Sakaya, Program Officer for VECO East Africa.

In 2014 Sakaya made a round of the villages to discuss these issues with the farmers. He managed to find quite a number of farmers who are motivated to change their old habits and willing to try out new techniques. The local farmer organizations of Kiruani, Chekereni and Oria are ready to tackle this challenge with enthusiasm.

“Our farmers are very well aware of the potential benefits of a good functioning irrigation system.”, notes UWAKI, the local farmer organization of Kiruani, “Last year, for example, our members have contributed voluntarily to the maintenance of the current irrigation system, because it is so important. However, we lack the capacity and knowledge to improve the currently used system.”

The farmer organizations’ enthusiasm was subsequently turned into partnership agreements with VECO East Africa. At the end of 2014 a first training session was held, which introduced participants to:

  • Crop Calendars – Careful planning of crop production, taking into account seasons and expected water supply, guarantees a higher and more stable yield at harvest.
  • Water Management – Each type of crop has different water needs. By introducing a water management system specifically catered to the individual needs of specific crops, productivity can be raised significantly. At the same it deals with using water as efficiently as possible to avoid wastage.
  • Irrigation Methods – Pros and cons of different methods were discussed. The importance of regular maintenance and correct use of the existing infrastructure was highlighted.
  • Environmental Conservation – Environmental degradation, together with climate change, is the most important cause for the decline in river water levels. By protecting the trees that are still left and by planting new trees at water sources this can be changed.

Special attention was given, during this training session, to the role of local Irrigation Associations, like UWAKI (Kiruani) and LOMIA (Chekereni and Oria). These associations defend the interests of farmers at the level of the local and national government and also function as mediators in case of conflict between different members. Members of the Irrigation Associations make joint agreements on:

  • Land Use – This way conflicts with pastoralists, whose cattle can damage the irrigation canals, is avoided
  • Water Use – Not every plot necessarily needs the same amount of water at the same time
  • Division of responsibilities on maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure

Based on this newly acquired knowledge and competences, the farmers of Kiruani, Chekereni, Uchira and Oria formulated a clear Action Plan for 2015.

VECO East Africa is in the process of helping these farmers with the implementation of these plans. A study was commissioned from Nelson Mandela Institute to investigate the most efficient irrigation method in each specific case. In a next step, plans are being drawn up with the design of new and improved irrigation infrastructures.

At this point in time, the design for the village of Uchira has already been completed. The study showed that the use of sprinkler irrigation should be preferred. A few plots will also test drip irrigation, which is the method which saves the most water. In the months to follow a public tender will be published to acquire the necessary materials and the actual construction in Uchira will start soon thereafter.

New designs are also being made up for the villages of Kiruani, Chekereni and Oria.

“It is our hope that with the results of these pilot projects, we can demonstrate the value of farmer cooperation and the benefits of new irrigation technologies.”, states Gerald Sakaya. “Together with all of our partners we want to find out the best approach to this by putting it in practice. This can later serve as an inspiring example for other farmers and local organizations.”