Replacing rainfall with irrigation technology in Mali

posted on September 11, 2017 3:57pm

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The majority of Mali’s households depend on rain to help them grow food crops. This is a problem, however, since inconsistent rainfall and drought can limit production. Irrigation can lead to more consistent harvests, but Mali’s farmers need to know which methods work best on which crops.

To help them find out, Abdoulah Mamary Kane, a scholar with the Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, is working to find the most effective irrigation technologies for vegetable production.

The goal of BHEARD, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is to develop agricultural scientists and increase agricultural research capacity in partner countries. The program is named after Dr. Norman Borlaug, an American biologist, humanitarian and Nobel laureate who has been called “the father of the Green Revolution.”

Mali’s government has invested in irrigation technologies and agronomic management practices in order to reduce dependence on rainfall and increase agricultural productivity. As part of those efforts, Kane’s study will determine how different vegetable irrigation systems contribute to the welfare of households in Mali’s rural communities.

One of the methods Kane is studying is the California irrigation system. Among other benefits, the system – a network of underground PVC pipes – reduces infiltration losses and conveys water to distant plots or plots with irregular topography. The California system has been shown to reduce irrigation time by 40% and pumping loads by at least 25%. It’s also been shown to save water, time and labor, and to increase productivity.

One of the drawbacks is the traditionally high cost of PVC pipe. However, Mali’s Rural Economic Institute (IER) has successfully tested the use of cheaper PVC pipe that’s normally used for sanitation.

The California system is still little known within Africa, according to Kane, but its use should be encouraged and promoted on a larger scale.

In addition to studying irrigation, Kane wants to help the Malian government formulate its general agricultural policies and wants to promote the country’s agricultural development. Mali has great potential in terms of food and water resources, but its income is very low. Like the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, Mali needs to build its institutional capacity, boost its policy research and analysis and improve its agribusiness value chain. Investment in human resources and the implementation of irrigation projects with partners like USAID can help Mali generate more income, improve food security and reduce the exodus of people leaving its rural areas.

Kane, who’s pursuing a Ph.D. in agricultural economics, agribusiness and management at Egerton University in Kenya, plans to graduate and return to Mali by August 2018. He will continue as a researcher at IER. His research interests will include food security, agricultural economics and agribusiness.

– Matt Milkovich