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The economics of low pressure drip irrigation and hand watering for vegetable production in the Sahel

Woltering, Lennart, Ibrahim, Ali, Pasternak, Dov, Ndjeunga, Jupiter
Agricultural water management 2011 v.99 no.1 pp. 67-73
Sahel, acid soils, cans, crop management, crop yield, economic performance, eggplants, farmers, humans, labor, markets, microirrigation, okra, production costs, profits and margins, sustainable agriculture, vegetable gardens, vegetable growing, Niger
Low pressure drip irrigation is being promoted in Sub Saharan Africa as an alternative to traditional methods of small scale irrigation of vegetables. The African Market Garden (AMG) is a horticultural production system for smallholders based on low-pressure drip irrigation combined with an improved crop management package. The agronomic and economic performance of the AMG is compared to two gardens irrigated manually with watering cans. One of these gardens is managed according to the same improved crop management package as in the AMG, this treatment is called Improved Management (IM). The other garden is managed according to common practices of vegetable producers in the area, this treatment is called the Farmer Practice (FP). Crop productivity, labor and water use were monitored for two vegetable species (okra and eggplants). The experiment was performed on-station in Niger on three adjacent 500m² plots in a sandy acid soil. It was found that improved crop management practices greatly enhance crop productivity over traditional methods at comparable production costs. The AMG gave higher crop yields and higher returns to investment than the treatments irrigated with watering cans. Labor accounts for up to 45% of the production cost in vegetable gardens irrigated by hand, where 80% of the producer time is spent on irrigation. The total labor requirement for the drip irrigated AMG was on average 1.1 man hours per day against 4.7 man hours per day for the Farmers Practice on a 500m² garden. Returns on labor are at least double for the AMG against the other treatments. The returns on land from eggplant were found to be US$ 1.7, 0.8 and 0.1 per m² for the AMG, IM and FP respectively. The returns on water for the cultivation of eggplant are around US$ 2 per m³ in the AMG, against US$ 0.1 in the Farmers Practice. This experiment showed the strong positive impact of drip irrigation and improved crop management practices on profits at minimal environmental costs, indicating that transformation of existing practices poses a considerable potential towards sustainable agricultural development.