A demonstration project on the use of clay pots for subsurface irrigation for food security was initiated on July 20, 2010, in the village of Atebes, Ethiopia. The project initially made possible the plantation of nearly 300 apple trees. The plantation of other variety of fruit trees and vegetables will continue. Students who were on vacation were involved in the project implementation.
The Role of Students
Students who were on their summer vacation also received the training side by side with the farmers. For the demonstration project, 106 apple trees were planted around 53 clay pots. Forty-eight students were given 2 apple seedlings each to plant around their homes and irrigate them using clay pots as was demonstrated in the pilot study. Moreover, 88 farmers were given between 2-7 apple trees to be planted around their homesteads using both clay pot irrigation and surface irrigation systems. All the participants are registered for the project and the local experts working for the project will follow their developments. Two farmers who were influenced by our activities also planted 53 and 5 apple trees. Many people would have continued to plant the fruit tree but the seedling supply was finished from the market for the time being.
Meeting with community leaders in Atebes
On July 20th, the project manager went to the village of Atebes and met with local community leaders. As expected, the community leaders and farmers identified water as the leading constraint of the community. Thus, their initial interest in the project was not on the cultivation of fruits and vegetables, but instead on the water-harvesting component of the project. Water scarcity in the village refers to the water amount for household use, not irrigation. The people who participated in the meeting were excited about the possibility of irrigating gardens and fruit trees in the dry land using the sub-surface irrigation system. It was explained to them that even though the water related problems are clear, the specific objective of the project is to demonstrate and test the use of water filled and buried clay pots for sub-surface irrigation both at the demonstration site and in their homesteads. Community leaders appreciated the idea of involving the young people (students) in the project activities. A second meeting was held the next day with the additional presence of specific community leaders in the village, as well as local youth.
Identification of demonstration site
A community plot was identified for the implementation of the demonstration site. The school master was happy to contribute to the success of the project in collaboration with his students and the youth leader.
Training of trainers
We initially trained 6 trainers on the use of buried clay pots for sub-surface irrigation. We freely distributed 12 dwarf apple trees to the trainers to be planted as a practice, based on the training manual. The trainers understood why clay pots are efficiently useful to water the plants under the topsoil. It did not take much for them to recognize that the moist soil that is created around the water filled clay pots provides water to the plants through their roots. The trainers took the leadership roles when the holes for the seedlings were dug, the soil and compost were mixed and when the apple trees were planted.
Acquiring clay pots
Getting the clay pots was one of the most difficult aspects of the project. Even though we had anticipated the shortage of clay pots due to the pervasive domination of plastic containers and imported metallic cooking utensils, we did not anticipate the situation would be that acute. During one meeting on collecting clay pots several people said that clay pots simply do not exist anymore. Further, we were unable to purchase clay pots from the market because traditional pots are not made during the rainy season. The rainy season is also characterized by the shortage of firewood and dried dung to fire the clays. One farmer noted that the few clay pots they have at home are extremely important to each household and recommended a clay pot -jerry cans (plastic containers) exchange. We bought 53 jerry cans the next day and asked households to donate their clay pots in exchange for jerry cans. We collected all the clay pots we needed for the first phase of the project and the farmers were happy with their new larger, lighter and durable plastic water containers.
Digging of the holes
Following the identification of the project demonstration site, 11 students and 6 adults dug holes to bury the clay pots. The involvement of the 11 students was deliberate so they can subsequently learn the techniques of using clay pots for irrigation. Initially, 76 holes were dug but 13of them were rejected for being rocky and too shallow. Clay pots were subsequently buried in the 53 holes. A mixture of compost and top soil was filled in the ground around the clay pots where the fruit trees will be planted.
Collecting compost for fertilizer
Discussions were conducted with community members over the debate of using chemical fertilizers or compost from dung. After discussing the benefits and disadvantage of chemical fertilizers by a soil expert accompanying the project leader, it was agreed that the use of dung was more appropriate due to water scarcity in the area. Several people volunteered to bring composed/dung by donkey or by carrying it on their backs from their households. The fertilizer was collected at a central place to be mixed with the soil during the plantation process at the project demonstration site. Farmers who participated in the project by planting the fruit trees around their homesteads were advised to follow the same techniques.
Burying the clay pots
The size of each hole was adjusted by measuring the circumference of the clay pots of various sizes. The project trainers showed the people who were hired to bury the clay pots, the technique of putting the mixture of topsoil and compost around the pots and then planting the fruit trees. The trainers played an integral role during the process. Lastly, the buried clay pots will be filled with water at the end of the rainy season.
Acquiring distributing seedlings
We wanted to plant several kinds of fruit trees as well as various vegetables using the technique of clay pot sub-surface irrigation. However, we initially started with the plantation of apple trees. The dwarf apple seedlings were bought from the local Ministry of Agricultures seedling distribution center in the nearby town of Adigrat. We rented a car to take them to the project demonstration site. We initially bought 297 apple trees and 2 coffee seedlings. Of these, 106 of the seedlings were planted in the demonstration project and the rest were distributed to students and other households that were interested to be part of the project. Our taxi driver was influenced by our project and bought 53 apple trees using his own money. We plan to provide him with further technical support.
The participants are registered for the project and volunteers will follow them through monthly visits. The proposal idea of planting 10 seedlings in the demonstration project was upgraded to more than 100 for several reasons. The people are extremely dispersed and following them individually on foot would be impractical for several reasons – 1) The community provided an enclosed area of land, which was convenient for the planting. 2) We wanted to expand the participating population during the second phase of the planting. 3) There has been increasing demand for apple trees and we will continue to distribute during the second round with other plants such as olive trees, pear and plum that are resilient to the cool, highland climate.
Planting the fruit seedlings
Seedlings were bought on Friday, July 23, and planted around the clay pots on Monday, July 26, 2010. People made sure that the topsoil was properly mixed with the compost and that the seedlings were about 30 centimeters away from the clay pots. Planters were also very careful to trim the long roots so that they wouldn’t twist. After planting the trees people brought water from the nearby pond and watered them generously. Fortunately, rains continued to pour for several days. It was decided that we would not fill the clay pots with water due to the heavy seasonal rains. The pots will be filled with water at the end of the rainy season in September.
Creating the roof water harvesting system
The roof water harvesting system was set up to store water during the rainy season so that the fruit trees in the project demonstration site will be irrigated efficiently during the dry season by filling the clay pots. We identified and bought two 10,000 liter capacity plastic containers for the project site. The community leaders and the project coordinators agreed and identified a space for the construction of leveled concrete plat forms around the building from whose roof the water is being collected. The platforms are constructed using nearby stones and by purchasing cement. The water harvesting containers/plastic tanks will be placed on the platform to collect the water from the roof through gutters and pipes. According to a report received by telephone on August 12, 2010, the roof water harvesting structure has been completed.
Governance of water use and management of the demonstration site
The village leaders have agreed on a water use management system. This is very important because of the water scarcity in the village and other local village members might use the water for other uses such as washing cloths and/or watering their animals. They were told clearly by the village leader and agreed that the water should be strictly used to water the plants and fill the clay pots.
Please see the pictures, for visual demonstration! Thank you for your support.