Last year the Quixote Center partnered with the Federation of Campesinos (Fedicamp) to construct irrigation systems for smallholder farmers in northern Nicaragua. Construction and training happened last winter, during the dusty dry season. Farmers were selected from among the communities who are members of the Federation, and focused on those families able to put multiple acres under cultivation, and who agreed to contribute seeds to Fedicamp’s growing network of organic community seed banks.
This year, those farmers were able to plant with confidence, even as the rain becomes less consistent. As global climate change continues, we expect greater variation in the arrival of rains for planting. Last year a prolonged drought nearly caused a famine in Nicaragua. The crisis was only averted through a costly government food import program. The key to success will increasingly be dependent on optimizing what water resources are available.
Each system is connected to a stream, well, or other reliable source of water. In the future, we may be able to construct cisterns for water storage on those farms which do not have access to these resources.
There are two types of systems that have been deployed. Drip irrigation systems are highly efficient and deliver water directly to the roots of the plant. They work well in all soil types and for a wide variety of crops and situations, from small patio gardens to farms and reforestation efforts. Currently, Fedicamp deploys these systems with two hundred liter barrels connected to a system of pipes and valves, powered by electricity. We hope to develop the use of solar PV systems to power these, though this method is currently cost-prohibitive.
Sprinkler systems require a well, and water is drawn through the use of a centrifugal pump. This electric pump pushes the water through a hose or pipe and past a sprinkler. The result is an even watering that effectively simulates the rain. Experience has shown that this type of system is effective for most crop types, and are more effective in densely cultivated areas.
Each of these systems allows families to cultivate their land with confidence, knowing that even if a drought occurs, their food will still grow. It also allows them to achieve greater efficiency of production, requiring less effort for each row of plants. The effects on the community are multiplied as the organic seed banks are made stronger through increased seed reserves and community participation.