Africa, with its vast arable areas, plentiful water and year-round warm weather, is the world’s last major region with the potential to dramatically increase agricultural production. Intensive agriculture production can also help to improve incomes,health and education in Africa. However, this development must also preserve natural habitats, which are unique and fragile. Irrigation can help Africa’s farmers limit land development by allowing sustainable intensification of land use.
Irrigation methods in Africa range from the world’s oldest flood systems along the Nile in North Africa to shallow wells flooding fields in scattered farms in sub-Saharan areas. Of the four million irrigated hectares in Africa, 1.5 million are irrigated by center pivots. Other irrigation methods include flood or channel methods, drip, fixed sprinklers, and foot and diesel pumps. For specific information on use of irrigation strategies in particular countries, refer to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) AQUASTAT page.
While each method of irrigation has its unique advantages in terms of cost, scale, flexibility, energy consumption, and water application suitability, CIRCLES is testing the applicability of center pivot technology to certain smallholder farms in Africa. Center pivot technology is used to irrigate 18 million hectares around the world. In Africa, center pivots are normally found on privately owned commercial farms. A typical single owner farms several hundred hectares and owns between one and four pivots.
CIRCLES is assisting smallholder groups in setting up one or more pivots which will be farmed by groups of smallholders. Because the scale of production will be dramatically increased by irrigation, CIRCLES is focused on the support of smallholders during the investigative, implementation and production stages of the project.
Why Center Pivots?
Why should smallholders pursue irrigation projects using center pivots? Center pivots have high capital and operating costs, and under a shared-pivot concept, they require coordination among smallholder farmers. If these barriers can be overcome, the smallholders can benefit from the commonly accepted advantages of center pivot irrigation. These advantages include low project cost per hectare, water conservation, reliability, simplicity and farmer autonomy and, of course, increased productivity. If CIRCLES is successful, we expect three major outcomes: many African farmers will enter commercial farming, Africa’s natural advantage for food production will be realized, and farming communities will become more prosperous and resilient against drought and other threats.
The Center Pivot Agriculture Industry in Africa
Center pivots were first developed in 1954 in the U.S. High Plains. Commercial farmers in Africa started installing center pivots in the early 1970s, initially in South Africa by private farmers supported by cooperatives. Today, farms in Africa are irrigating over 1.5 million hectares using center pivots,supported by dealer organizations across Africa from the four center pivot manufacturers in the U.S. and several other manufacturers from Europe.
Center Pivot Irrigation Benefits
- Lower initial investment cost than comparable irrigation systems when using full-size or larger sized center pivots
- Relatively low operational costs when systems pressures are low
- Easy to manage and maintain
- Long life – between 20 to 30 years
- Crop versatility
- High water use efficiency
- Preferred method for leaching soil salinity
Pump Requirements – Center Pivot Irrigation System
An 8 inch column pipe for discharge of line-shaft turbine pump is required. Irrigation systems will require a pump with a flow rate of 150-200 cubic meters per hour that will be in operation 1,500-3,500 hours per year while irrigating 50 hectares with 2-4 crop seasons.
Pump Solution – WASH Facility / Livestock Watering
- Irrigation system will be inactive for 1-2 months per year during the rainy season and harvest times
- A solar powered submersible pump may be used during this period of inactivity
- Ideally, two pumps – one for irrigation, and one for the WASH/livestock watering solutions to be employed in the same well.