Drought Affects Irrigation Industry

While out of the total of the agricultural area served by the Ministry of Agriculture only 7.2 percent has some irrigation system, the company with the capacity to build them has difficulties to do so

By: Marianela Martín González

Email: marianela@juventudrebelde.cu

2017-08-22 | 16:46:52 EST
SequiaSequia Photo: SequiaZoom

For more than 50 years, Lázaro González Moreno has not benefited from anyirrigation system other than flood, and although he admits that its use is preferable to sow in dry land, he regrets so much water loss.

In his farm, in Camajuaní, Villa Clara, Lázaro produces to satisfy the demands of his family, and even markets a part of these with the State. "But at what cost?" He asks rhetorically. He is aware that in his entire life as a producer he has squandered much water to the point of embarrassment.

The system that is used to irrigate in the surrounding farms is by gravity. Even many of those who acquire land under Decree Law 300 and have the possibility to irrigate their crops do so in this way, like he said, because the initial investment is not so expensive, although the ecological cost everyone knows that it is inestimable.

Through gravity irrigation, an average of 20 percent of the water pumped is not used according to experts. This situation with the prolonged droughts is so worrying with short or outdated rainfall periods, as happened in 2016 and now.

The reality of Artemisa’s Maikel Córdova, aware of climate change, is more promising than that of his colleague. More than five years ago, after his cooperative was electrified, he enjoyed the benefits of the sprinkler irrigation system with central pivot machines.

He described the machine as a blessing. Therespect for technological discipline, reinforced by him in the university where he trained as an agronomist, must be accompanied by good practices.

Engineer Julián Alonso Pérez, EIR director general. Photo: Roberto Garaicoa

Therefore he insists that the training of producers is necessary to avoid the deterioration of these electric irrigation machines, which use water and energy carriers efficiently.

Córdova said that this technology allows to benefit soils with moderate ripples or slopes, and can be used in a wide variety of crops. He even assured that they use it for rice cultivation in other countries, and a good part of the qualities of the cereal are attributed to this form of irrigation.

"Their cost regarding the water distribution per hectare is below that of other technologies. It is a fact that with this irrigation system productivity increases. A guajiro from his booth or with a mobile device can operate the machine and irrigate between 40 and 50 hectares a day.

"The system, according to the crop development stage, allows to regulate the water neededaccurately. It also makes it possible to apply the fertigation to the crops, that is, to apply urea (nitrogen) as the crop develops, along with irrigation, saving work force and streamlining its application.


" The initial cost of this investment is high and is vandalized when it is not monitored. But if you know that who needs a hose for the house solves their problem by stealing it to the nearest irrigation machines, and that the nozzles and sprinklers turn into trinkets in the black market, then you have to prevent this from happening, "says Córdova, who thanks to this technology has almost quadrupledproductions.

When solution is down to technology

The high demand for efficient irrigation systems can be seen all over the island when you talk with the guajiros or attend their meetings convened by the National Association of Small Farmers and other associations that promulgate science as the only way to make agriculture sustainable.

They know that climate change and population aging are obstacles that deeply affect the countryside, slowing down their productions; And can only be mitigated by using modern science and technology.

It was no coincidence that recently, in the Parliamentary Agri-Food Commission, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Ydael Pérez Brito considered the appropriate use of central pivot irrigation machines to increase agricultural production, and thus contribute to consumption per capita.

When inquiring about the areas that are technified with this irrigation system Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG)head of Irrigation, Drainage and Supply Rodovaldo Lopez Valle said that out of 6 240 263 agricultural hectares belonging to his sector, only 7.2 percent have an irrigation system.

Only 459,007 hectares are irrigated, the rest is cultivated in rain-fed, and depends on rain. Out of the irrigated ones, only 26 percent is made with sprinkler systems with only ten percent using the central pivot system, a technology praised throughout the world for its effectiveness.

López Valle said that 70 percent of the areas under irrigation use the superficial method or irrigation that is very wasteful, and that only four percent uses localized irrigation that stands out for its effectiveness and rational use of water.

Where there’s will there’s no always a way

Engineer Julián Alonso Pérez, general director of the Integral Irrigation Company (EIR), recalled that in late 2014, when the process of reorganization experienced by the industry began, the country decided to have an industrial irrigation company, whose main social object was to make equipment and systems.

Since the Industrial Irrigation Company is dedicated to irrigation productions work capacity is complete. Photo: Roberto Garaicoa

From that moment on, its productions would concentrate mainly on irrigation systems for sprinklers, central pivot irrigation machines, irrigation machines for winders, windmills, electric pumps and horizontal pumps, as well as houses for cultivation with irrigation system included.

"Since we have been involved in irrigation production we have been covering the work capacity of the company. Every year this potential allows us to satisfy the demand of 4 100 hectares of irrigation by sprinkling,. Since 2014 we have fulfilled the commitments agreed; And we already undertake what was agreed for the current year without difficulties that we can not overcome.

'However, the situation with the production capacity of sprinkler irrigation systems with central pivot machines is complicated. We have the possibility of making 240 units a year, but we have not been able to cover it due to lack of funds.

In Cuba, a single industry is responsible for manufacturing the central pivot irrigation machines: Bayamo’sMechanical Company, located in Granma. By producing below capacity, workers have had to engage in other activities, which are also useful, but away from the fundamental social object for which it was conceived. For this reason the exodus of workers towards other more profitable sectors is constant.

Never standing idly

Meanwhile, the EIR has the capacity to annually produce 2,000 windmills, and build systems that cover 400 hectares of irrigation for the fruit program.

According to the company's director this year they will contribute 15 irrigation systems for the increase of fruits in the island and are able to maintain that rhythmin support of that purpose in which more than a hundred cooperatives throughout the country are engaged.

Every system will cover 67 hectares and will be set up by a MINAG company that is in charge of these tasks. The technicians of the industry take part in the start-up and provide an incipient after-sales service.

"When they call us for some difficulty through our logistics centers, distributed in different areas of the country, we change the broken part if we have it in our inventories. We have even replaced bombs, " Alonso Pérez said.

"The after-saleis incipient because it is very difficult to have spare parts in a warehouse to fix everything that breaks down. In 2017 the funding allocated for that purpose is approximately seven million pesos, but does below the demand, "he said.

In responding to a demand from the Ministry of Agriculture, the EIR expects an investment in drip irrigation systems by 2018. It aims to achieve an installed capacity of 2,000 hectares per year. These equipment consume up to three times less water than traditional systems, such as spraying.

The company's development plan is outlined each year based on the needs of the country. Many of these demands arise from customers; and other productions start from the perception that the EIR has to improve its lines.

For this reason, they included in this year's plan a team to treat the water of rivers contaminated by waste some entities improperly use for irrigation. Already a system like benefits the organoponico located in Boyeros and Camagüey, in Havana. A drip irrigation system was used as a source of supply with limited capacities.

"The equipment has a titanium dioxide reactor with a water cleaning capacity of 1,000 liters per hour. The liquid that is obtained should not be used for drinking, but is suitable for irrigation without affecting human health. That alternative is very valuable, because it heals the place and saves water, not having to take it from the water table.

"It's a relatively inexpensive technology. At the moment we put the pump, the filter, we make the trolley, the metallic structure and the assembly, but we are ready to do the complete system in the next few years. We would only import the lamps required and the titanium dioxide.

" We will finish ten of these devicesin September, which will be distributed in Havana, Villa Clara and Camagüey. Out of the spare parts we would order. The titanium dioxide they contain can last up to 25 years without replacement. The lamps are the most needed, but there are some that can last up to five years," he said.

They also have another production in progress that represents an alternative to face the small drought that hits the country. This is the irrigation ambulance. From September onwards, it will be seen regularly in rural areas. It will carry with it, as identification, a green cross.

It is a pipe of 3 000 liters of water that has a motor pump attached and in the tank has hooks where there is a system of irrigation by sprinkling. It's to save crops. If, for example, maize is planted in rainfed and is expected to rain later to achieve planting and does not occur, then this ambulance "works" as a cloud.

"It serves as a palliative in places where there are no wells. That device will allow farmers to plant in dry land without fear of drought, "he said.

Water saving

Despite the economic constraints that hamper the full development of the EIR, it shows healthy indicators of efficiency, thanks to the ingenuity of its human capital, which constantly incorporates new products into its production and adopts measures to rationalize inputs and resources such as water.

On a monthly basis they buy about 15 tons of recycled plastic to be reincorporated to their productions . They are also mounting systems to collect water using gable roof canals and other gadgets in the five factories they have.

"In the Cajimaya company, l in Mayarí, Holguín, 5,000 liters per day are used and up to 150,000 can be collected in any downpour, thus saving the liquid that must be offered by the Water Resources services in the territory. This year they have not spent water other than that collected. In Camagüey we recently did the same, but strategically placing tanks and we have also managed to cover up to 20 days with rainwater.

"We will do the same with the other s, because we not only save water, but also with the use of rain we take care of the equipment, being a liquid with less salts, able to reduce incrustations," he said.

A wanted creature

This company is what could be called a much loved son for what it means for the country’s economy in the matter of import substitution. If it were to produce the 240 sprinkler irrigation machines with central pivot systems, for which it is fit, then the effect would be quickly seen in the fields of Cuba and in our table.

If it could meet the demands of agriculture: to set up between 120 and 150 pivot machines every year, about 12,000 hectares (which would begin to average between 20 and 25 tons each) would be annually assisted, according to MINAG specialists. But most of all, the waste of water, the coveted resource that in the not-too-distant future could trigger international conflicts because it is in the midst of extinction, as warned a study by the World Economic Forum that in the next ten years problems related to water will occupy the top position among those with greater scope and planetary connotation.

Translated by ESTI

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