Researchers from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) and University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) said in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday that in the wake of unreliable rainfall blamed on climate change, irrigation using underground water should be given priority if struggling smallholder farmers have to continue feeding the country.
SUA’s Professor Siza Tumbo and Drs Victor Kongo and Samuel Lyimo from UDSM said the country has failed to tap the country’s high irrigation potential as only 400,000 hectares out of over 2.4 million hectares are currently under irrigation. “For many years issues of irrigation and rainwater harvesting were not prioritised in this country but now that rainfall pattern is unreliable, these issues are relevant,” said Prof Tumbo who pointed out that there is need for government to seriously target irrigation for public investment.
Prof Tumbo who is among researchers who have since 2009 undertaken studies in rural irrigation through Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funded Agriculture Water Management (AWM) project, pointed out that irrigation has always been given back seat by policy makers.
“This can also be seen in the field of education where we got our first expert in irrigation only two years ago,” he underlined naming the distinguished Tanzanian as Professor Andrew Tarimo of SUA. Presenting a synopsis of the project, Dr Kongo said it started in 2009 and covers five African countries and India. “Our target is to reach 65 million people in the next 20 years,” he said.
Apart from Tanzania other African countries are Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana and Zambia. Dr Kongo said use of hand pumps in irrigation is less efficient while those of fuel are expensive to run compared to electric pumps. On average research has established that it takes over 260 hours to irrigate a hectare of land per annum using motorized pump, it takes over 2,500 hours for a manual pump and over 2,700 hours for a jerry-can.
“The project will have assisted one million smallholder farmers increase their income within five years of completion,” Dr Kongo noted saying media role in the whole exercise is crucial. Retired senior lecturer Dr Lyimo underscored the need for training, capacity building and establishing savings and credit cooperative societies to help smallholder rural farmers improve their productivity.