Drip irrigation: Addressing the “thirst” in agriculture

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The Philippines is currently being beset by El Niño episodes causing rivers and dams to run out of water. Farms are withering resulting to tremendous damage of almost all crops planted and harvested during the first and second quarter of this year.

Aside from the alarming issues of climate change, studies show that the demand for freshwater is increasing globally because of the needs of a growing population and associated urbanization that accelerates water consumption for drinking and other household uses as well as for urban and industrial uses. However, the agriculture sector is still considered the biggest user of freshwater resource in most developing countries including the Philippines.

The research on low-cost drip irrigation conducted by Dr. Victor B. Ella, Professor and former Dean of the College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology University of the Philippines Los Baños (CEAT-UPLB), is part of efforts geared towards the development of water-saving technologies for agriculture to address the irrigation problem particularly in areas where water is a limiting factor.

Drip irrigation, also known as trickle or micro-irrigation, is an irrigation method that involves the delivery of water through a pipe distribution network consisting of a main pipe, submain, manifold and lateral pipes under low pressure and its emission through small outlets of drippers or emitters into the soil surrounding the crop to be irrigated.

Drip irrigation system works by applying water slowly and directly to the soil. It is considered to be the most efficient method of irrigating crop because: First, water soaks into the soil before it can evaporate or run off. Second, water is only applied where it is needed and when it is needed most.

In a seminar organized by the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) in Quezon City, Dr. Victor B. Ella of UPLB presented the results of his USAID-funded research project on low-cost drip irrigation technology for sustainable vegetable agroforestry system in the Philippines.

According to Dr. Ella, drip irrigation has many advantages. It is adaptable to any crop, soil and topographic conditions. It can be used even with limited water supply and can provide relatively high water use efficiency. Drip irrigation system is easy to install and operate and can reduce the incidence of leaf diseases caused by direct water contact on some plants. Drip irrigation can also facilitate liquid fertilizer application through fertigation.

Dr. Ella also emphasized the applicability of drip irrigation systems even for upland vegetable production areas in the Philippines.

In fact, in the field experiments conducted in Lantapan, Bukidnon, through the Sustainable Agriculture and Natural Resources Management (SANREM) research program, showed that the crops irrigated with drip irrigation system gave significantly higher yield than the rainfed crops, given that the same production inputs were applied for both treatments. For instance, the average yield of cabbage and tomato under drip irrigation system is 4.45 and 4.78 kilograms per square meter, respectively, compared to the average yield of the same crop at 3.38 and 3.93 kilogram per square meter under rainfed conditions. Furthermore, drip irrigation also resulted in relatively higher plant height and larger sizes of produce, Dr. Ella added.

Although the technology has been introduced to farmers in Bukidnon, Dr. Ella said that further research and continuous development of this technology is needed to maximize its potential.

Dr. Ella appealed to the government and non-government organizations for necessary institutional and financial support for further improvement and development of the technology. He also recommended that this technology be considered as part of the food security and poverty alleviation program for farmers as well as part of climate change program of the government in the country.(Edmon B. Agron)


For further information please contact:
Dr. Victor B. Ella
Professor
Land and Water Resources Division
Institute of Agricultural Engineering
College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology
University of the Philippines Los Baños
College, Laguna, PHILIPPINES
E-mail: vbella@up.edu.ph and vbella100@yahoo.com
Tel/fax: (049)-536-2387

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