The battle to ensure equitable and sustainable access to fresh water supplies is in the hands of all water users.
In South Africa, there is wastage of up to 40% of the water supplied to irrigated agriculture which accounts for over 60% of the national water demand. Small-scale irrigators are an important water user group that needs to improve on water use efficiency.
Against this background, the Gauteng Department of Agricultural and Rural Development (GDARD) has been supporting the training of small-scale farmers from the province in water saving irrigation technologies. The training has been carried out by the Irrigation and Drainage Engineering (IDE) division of the Agricultural Research Council-Agricultural Engineering (ARC-AE).
The one-day course is tailor-made for small-scale irrigators, and potential irrigators, and equips them with the skills they need to use water sustainably and practice water-efficient irrigation techniques.
The course has been running for several years and last year ran from 24 October to 26 October at the ARC-AE Silverton Campus. The three-day training event was attended by 83 farmers and 20 officials. The course covered a general introduction to irrigation in other parts of the world and in South Africa; various water saving irrigation technologies available in South Africa and important factors to consider; practical water saving techniques applicable to small-scale irrigation farming systems; and hi-tech irrigation scheduling methods with special focus on the Wetting Front Detector and the Chameleon. Interactive classroom style lectures were supported by outdoor demonstrations of some of the available technologies.
It is imperative to note that a one-day training course in irrigation systems will never be adequate to produce competent irrigators. However, the training has proven useful in stirring small-scale farmer interest in water saving irrigation technologies such as drip and micro-irrigation systems.
This kind of training will inform farmers’ future choices on irrigation systems. It was interesting to note that some small-scale farmers are already using drip and micro-irrigation systems but are not equipped with the necessary skills and knowledge for proper management, trouble shooting and remedial action.
More technology specific training and support is needed to help farmers deal with everyday challenges such as clogging/blockages, damage and replacement of emitters whose discharge rates they cannot estimate accurately.
The course also offered a platform for ‘early’ adopters of water saving irrigation technologies to share their experiences and to learn more about how to sustainably manage their systems.
Hi-tech irrigation scheduling using the Wetting Front Detector and Chameleon stimulated great interest which should be encouraged in further support. – Dr Macdex Mutema, ARC Newsletter
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