Water efficiency in irrigation: The way to go

In this era of climate change and unreliable rainfall patterns, farmers have found irrigation to be the inescapable alternative to rain fed agriculture. Irrigation can be a very useful alternative to rain fed agriculture and has a very huge potential to turn around the fortunes of farmers if practiced properly.
However, irrigation can also be costly if not done properly and can also lead to the over exploitation of water if not done in a manner that is water efficient. May farmers who do irrigation have sometimes found themselves saddled with huge ZINWA bills over the years, with some of the debts dating back to as far back as the introduction of the multicurrency system in 2009. Most of these farmers are now unable to service these debts resulting in ZINWA resorting to water disconnections at their farms or legal action to recover the dues. These bills could have been avoided had farmers adopted efficient ways of water use in irrigation. Water efficiency will mean reduced bills and sustainability in terms of having the resource available especially at a time when a lot of places in Zimbabwe are now receiving below normal rainfall.
There are some ways in which farmers can reduce the amount of the water they use in their fields and consequently reduce their bills in a great way. This will also allow them to conserve the finite and strategic resource called water.
Firstly all irrigating farmers should possess agreements that allow them to access water in ZINWA managed dams. This is in line with the requirements of the Water Act and the ZINWA Act. These agreements will protect them in times of water scarcity and also allow ZINWA to properly allocate water in its dams to meet the competing interests of the water users around the dams.
Farmers should strive to minimise water losses along their irrigation system. All leaks should be fixed within the shortest possible period. This will significantly reduce bills since water abstracted from the source will be billed and it will not help the farmer to be paying for lost water. Farmers should make it their routine to constantly check for any leaks across the system and repair any leak detected.
In cases where irrigation water is delivered to the field through a canal, farmers should ensure that their canals are lined so as to reduce seepage and evaporation. In areas where seepage is severe, a farmer will lose quite significant amounts of water to seepage and end up paying for those losses.
Farmers should also have adequate knowledge about the crops they put in their fields. This knowledge empowers the farmer to know the crop’s water requirements and then schedule his or her irrigation activities in line with the requirement. A good farmer will know the water requirements for his crops at different stages of the growth cycle. This will ensure that the farmer does not end up using excessive water at the different stages. Such knowledge also allows the farmer to apply for the correct quantities when applying for water at ZINWA. Most farmers find themselves in debt because they usually apply for more water than what their crops require and because water is charged based on allocation, such farmers end up failing to utilise the water and still have to pay for it.
Good farmers can also embrace water efficient irrigation methods such as drip irrigation. Drip irrigation ensures that water is applied only where the plant is and this significantly reduces wastage of water.
Residue management and conservation tillage is also another way through which farmers can improve water efficiency at the farms. Conservation tillage coupled with proper field levelling reduces run off and help improve the soil’s ability to hold moisture. It also reduces evaporation meaning the amount of water required over a particular period of time significantly reduces.
It is therefore the duty of every water user to ensure that water is conserved for purposes of reducing water bills and protecting the resources since we owe it to the future generations to leave a sound water resources base for them.

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