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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 104

Sprinklers! - a C-turn by Vavuniya onion farmers

Colombo, 28 March, ( “My father was supportive when I chose to deviate from the traditional method of cultivation” said Niyas, a young farmer, from Pulitharithapuliyankulam, a village in the Vavuniya District. He proudly displayed a sack of freshly harvested carrots weighing 30 kilograms to UNDP Resident Representative Mr. Frederick Lyons.

He started small with an initial investment in a sprinkler system and began cultivating a mere quarter acre of land with carrots, beet, leeks and chili. Four months on, Niyas was able to expand his cultivable area to one acre. Within one year he more than doubled his yield and now owns a tractor as well.

The main source of income for many families in Vavuniya is paddy and vegetable farming. The farmers fetch their water from deep wells. During the long dry seasons the ground water reserves run the risk of depletion due to the extensive use of well water for irrigation, while the high cost of labor is also a concern. These had discouraged cultivators from continuing to farm.

UNDP with European Union funding stepped into provide a system of ‘sprinkler irrigation’ to the affected farming community in Vavuniya for which the Department of Agriculture provided technical supervision. With the sprinklers in place, the time taken to water the crops has greatly reduced and so has the cost.

“With these sprinklers I am able to finish watering this plot in about 10 to 12 minutes, with the old method it would take a full hour,” Niyas said.

Niyas no longer needs to pay expensive labor charges to farm hands to draw water from the well or to prepare soil beds. With the introduction of sprinkler irrigation, he has been able to automate the process by using diesel, kerosene or electricity to draw water and also because soil beds are required no more.

The use of ‘Sprinkler irrigation’ however is a paradigm shift from traditional farming practices. UNDP conducted an awareness programme on the use of the sprinkler system in selected villages where the response was encouraging.

However, sprinkler irrigation does not come too cheap. To cultivate a quarter acre of land, farmers must make an initial capital investment of Rs.27, 000 (about US$250)

In order to help these farmers bear the cost of this efficient watering system, UNDP arranged for the initial capital to be made available as a loan. The ‘Integrated Farmers Society’ (IFS) in Vavuniya served as the intermediary in extending these loans as initial capital to cultivators. Eighty farmers from different villages in Vavuniya were among the first batch of recipients. The repayment began 2 months after the loan was given at the rate of 1 percent to be paid back in 6 months time. UNDP officials in Vavuniya say repayments have been satisfactory. The facility was therefore extended to a further 131 farmers who are now being enjoying the benefits.

Farmers in Vavuniya say they realize that the use of the sprinkler system will enable them to extend their plantations and to cultivate throughout the year, breaking away from the traditional practice of seasonal cultivation.

Besides contributing to the development of the agricultural sector, this UNDP project has also positively contributed to the conservation of the environment by avoiding over-extraction of ground water reserves. Given the popularity and the demand for the sprinkler system of irrigation UNDP plans to continue its assistance to other farming communities in this area shortly.

- Asian Tribune -

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