Smallholder farmers across the globe, from the dry plains of East Africa to the coastal mountains of Central America, are disproportionately affected by climate change. Droughts, floods, pests, and diseases are impacting crop production and food security around the world. For the millions of people who rely on the slim margins of small-scale farming for their livelihood, the burden of climate change can seem insurmountable. Smallholder farmers who adopt climate-smart solutions, such as drip irrigation, become more resilient, self-sufficient, and independent.
Here are 5 ways drip irrigation makes a big difference for small-scale farmers:
1. Saves time
When rainfall is insufficient, many smallholder farmers resort to watering each crop by hand. Drip irrigation allows crops to be watered simultaneously across a large area simply by turning a valve. Liquid fertilizer can be mixed into the water source and distributed through the drip system directly to the roots of each plant. Drip irrigation ensures that water and fertilizer are delivered evenly to every plant, and gives the farmer time to focus on other activities while the crops are watered.
2. Conserves water
Drip irrigation is one of the most efficient ways to deliver water to crops. Water drips slowly directly at the base of the plant, allowing each drop of water to be absorbed by the roots. This prevents run-off and evaporation, and ensures that every drop of water is used by the plants. With drip irrigation, water is only emitted where crops are planted and not between crops, which reduces weed growth.
3. Extends the growing season
Most small-scale farmers are dependent on rain-fed agriculture and are only able to cultivate crops during the rainy season. Drip irrigation allows farmers to begin cultivation before the rainy season begins, continue once the rains have stopped, or grow crops during the dry season. Many small-scale farmers who use drip irrigation during the dry season are able to earn high returns in the market when demand is high and supply is low.
4. Saves money
In many rural households, small-scale farming is the main source of food and income for the family. Drip irrigation helps to increase yields and allows for year-round cultivation of high-value crops. Small-scale farmers can use drip irrigation for household food production to save money on crops that they would otherwise buy in the market. Growing high-value crops at home can result in significant cost savings, particularly in areas impacted by seasonality and frequent price fluctuations in the markets.
5. Builds resilience
Unpredictable rains have caused widespread crop loss and have made small-scale farmers more vulnerable. Slight variations in rainfall can devastate crop production, and rain-fed agriculture has become increasingly unreliable for families who depend on it for a livelihood. Small-scale farmers can use drip irrigation to water crops at any time, such as during a dry spell, drought, or dry season. Being able to irrigate year-round reduces farmers’ dependence on rainfall and builds resilience to climate change.
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