Since its founding in 1948, Israel has had a thirst to grow crops in the desert. It wasn’t just a technological challenge, but a matter of survival. Today, Israel offers some of the world’s hottest technologies in desalination, water reclamation and crop irrigation.
But the Jewish nation hasn’t forgotten those early days, when Israel hadn’t enough to drink, let alone to water fields. To help Africans in a similar situation, the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s MASHAV (Agency for International Development Cooperation) has developed Tipa (“drop”) to transfer Israeli drip-irrigation water technology to remote areas in Senegal, where basic amenities, even electricity, are lacking.
Modern drip irrigation, the most efficient method of watering crops, evolved from an ancient method where clay pots were filled with water and buried underground so that the water would gradually seep out of the pots and into the crops. Later the same effect was achieved by using perforated pipes or hoses, applying water slowly and directly to plants’ roots and allowing it to soak into the soil before it can evaporate or run off. In the 1960s, farmers in many countries began using an Israeli-pioneered plastic emitter that revolutionized and perfected the method for maximum growth with minimum water.
The Tipa system puts this technology into an easy-to-use kit. The hardware consists of a concrete reservoir, a plastic drip irrigation kit and a water pump. Using gravity, water can be pumped from a river or aquifer by hand, solar energy or diesel fuel, under the assumption that most farms are run by women who cannot operate heavy equipment.
It’s been a boon for Senegal, situated in the drought-prone Sahelian region, where rainfall is irregular and the soil poor in nutrients. About 75 percent of the working population is engaged in farming, and a majority of these farms are dependent on rain.
The Israeli solution, based on easy-to-install drip irrigation systems and an economic model, is becoming so wildly successful that towns and villages beyond the perimeters of the Israeli projects are copying them, says Ilan Fluss, Director of MASHAV’S Planning and External Relations Department. “Irrigation is one of the main pillars of the activities of MASHAV,” says Fluss. The Senegal model was implemented seven years ago, introduced first by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev at a sustainable development summit in Johannesburg in 2002. Two years later, the project was up and running.
Increasing crop value and village income
Tipa is intended for sustainable development in rural areas in the South Sahara, where farmers rely on traditional methods that are inefficient and unreliable sources of livelihood for communities.
Drip irrigation gives the Senegalese food security in regions of Ngoe, M’bassis, Daptior, Keur Yaba and Mbisau. “Instead of one crop per year, they can have three, and higher yields from each small plot of land,” says Fluss.
“Today a lot of them are growing maize and vegetables but we have introduced to them high-value crops, and what can happen when the [small farms] are organized into communities so they are working together. They plant together and try to work in a coordinated way to solve issues of [food] security, and obviously they can sell into the markets what they are producing.”
The Israeli solution is complete, scalable and replicable, even without direct Israeli input – and that’s the beauty of it. Once the idea is fully understood, the Senegalese can develop it themselves. “We are bringing a solution to small farmers without the abilities to invest in modern agriculture,” says Fluss. “But our solutions are loaded with technology. We bring them simple solutions that are sustainable and which can be applied in a rural setting.”
The seeds they use also can be improved, says Fluss, and they can cut down on the abundance of chemicals and pesticides now damaging their natural resources.
The highest form of aid
This is no handout, Fluss stresses. In the 12 regions Israel is aiding in Senegal, the technologies are financed through low-interest micro-loans granted by NGOs working in the region. Israel provides the technological know-how, and equipment is supplied via competitive tenders. Some farmers already have been able to triple their income, and have found the system reduces the amount of time needed in the fields for weeding.
Israel also gives the Senegalese capacity-building support, Fluss says. “We are working with them to make sure they produce [their crops] in the right way, overseeing their production efforts to help make sure that the farmers will be productive and independent after a couple of years.”
According to Judaic values, giving a person the ability to earn a living is the highest level of charity, so this project in Senegal fulfills a very basic tenet for the Jewish state.
And the success? “We can already see that around those communities where we are working, people are copying this model independently,” reports Fluss, who estimates that the Israeli intervention has directly impacted about 700 Senegalese families.
The Senegalese government has turned the Israeli model into a national program. A new trilateral partnership established between the governments of Israel, Italy and Senegal will install some 500 hectares of Tipa to directly benefit 10,000 people in rural Senegal. “These are the direct ones,” Fluss says of the system that is being used in Kenya, South Africa, Benin and Niger. “It’s like a satellite which influences the area around it.