text size: smaller reset larger

 

 

Water harvesting in Nicaragua - a blue revolution

Victor Beltran has never seen his farm so productive (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Victor Beltran has never seen his farm so productive
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

"Before there was nothing - it was very dry," farmer Victor Beltran recalls. "Now we have maize, sorghum, beans, as well as pasture." While his neighbour's land remains dusty and unproductive, Beltran has transformed his farm after volunteering to be part of a Nicaraguan pilot project to capture and store rainwater for dry season irrigation. "This technology has totally changed the way we produce our crops," he enthuses.

In the 60 years Beltran has been farming in northern Nicaragua, he has never seen his farm so productive - for very good reasons. Nicaragua has two seasons, one wet and one dry. With good sunlight and little pest or disease pressure, conditions during the dry season are favourable for crop production, except a lack of rain makes rivers run dry and crops fail. During the equally extreme rainy season, the skies are so dark there is barely enough light to grow food despite the excess of water. Irregular rains also result in periodic drought stress during the rainy season further limiting yields and discouraging farmers from investing in improved seeds, use of fertiliser and other agronomic practices essential for better yields. As a result, dependence on rainfed agriculture is a primary cause of deep poverty in Nicaragua.

Catching the rain

"In Latin America we have 25 per cent of the world's water and only 5 per cent of the world's population," explains Edward Pulver, agricultural scientist at the Latin American Fund for Irrigated Rice (FLAR) at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). "We have excess water. If we can just capture this water, store it in a pond and then start planting crops during the dry season we can feed ourselves very easily."

Reservoirs are constructed utilising the region's hilly topography (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Reservoirs are constructed utilising the region's hilly topography
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Beltran's reservoir is just one of 12 that have been completed or are being built across a wide range of climatic and soil conditions along the Pacific coastal region, where 85 per cent of the population of Nicaragua live. The project is implemented by FLAR, in partnership with local municipal governments, and with funding from the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC). In areas with high levels of surface water runoff, reservoirs are constructed utilising the region's hilly topography: clay-rich soil dams are built between interlocking steep hillsides and the base is compacted to create a natural seal. Reinforced pipes are then embedded in concrete underneath the dam. To water his crops, Beltran opens a valve and fresh water gushes out to be transported to drip irrigation pipes in his fields.

Reshaping farming

With ample sunlight and abundant water, crop yields and farm incomes have significantly increased. Preliminary data reveal that under dry season irrigation, beans yield two to five times more while yields of maize have tripled, compared to production during the rainy season. Farmers are now growing beans, rice, maize and water melons on land that was once arid and unproductive, and incomes have increased ten-fold. Tilapia has also been introduced to some of the reservoirs, as an alternative source of protein and income for farming families.

FLAR is working hard to demonstrate this technology to small farmers across the country in addition to training local staff to identify suitable sites for catchment facilities so they can build their own reservoirs. "If access to this technology is expanded, the impact of drought in Nicaragua becomes much less," Beltran explains. "Farmers can have a balanced diet, money for their farm and for their children's education. On my farm there is now work for four of us. Before, I only had one other to help me."

FLAR is working hard to demonstrate this technology to small farmers across the country (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
FLAR is working hard to demonstrate this technology to small farmers across the country
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

For Pulver, the pilot project is an excellent example of how landscapes and livelihoods can be transformed. "Right now everything is dead around there besides the crops that have irrigation," he says. "Farmers are 100 per cent convinced about this technology. We've had farmer field days almost every day. We've had thousands of farmers seeing this and they know this is the solution to their problems. Now we've got to commercialise it."

Pilot projects are also underway in Mexico and Costa Rica, and there are plans to implement similar schemes in other parts of the tropics that have the right topography and conditions to harvest water. "Globally, water is tremendously under-used," project coordinator, Gonzalo Zorrilla, concludes. "The intelligent, sustainable use of water could give rise to a revolution of water, or 'blue revolution' because this strategy of building reservoirs for rainwater is sustainable, renewable and environmentally effective."

Date published: May 2012

 

Have your say

Rain water harvesting is useful for supplemental irrigations... (posted by: RAVINDER RAJU AMBATI)

 

The New Agriculturist is a WRENmedia production.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.
Accept
Read more