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Solar-powered micro irrigation systems in Uganda

Karamoja to get solar-powered irrigation - At least fourteen solar-powered micro irrigation systems will be constructed across the semi-arid Karamoja region in a bid to boost food security. For years, Karamoja has severely suffered from the effects of unpredictable weather patterns, dominated by prolonged spells of drought. As a result, crop and animal production has largely failed and left many people there on the brink of starvation.

Things could be about to get better though, following the approval of multibillion donor-funded plans to build two solar-powered irrigation stations in each of Karamoja's seven districts. At least 280 agro-pastoralist households, also known as manyattas in Abim, Kaabong, Moroto, Kotido, Amudat, Nakapiripirit and Napak districts will directly benefit from the irrigation systems.

Using an electric pump connected to solar panels, the systems will mostly use borehole water. The water will then be taken into storage tanks, which supply the drip irrigation valves, and finally water the gardens. Thomas Ameny, Moroto's programme officer for land and water management, says setting up the irrigation systems will be easy because vital infrastructure such as water sources are readily available.

Officials estimate that each micro irrigation system will cost between $25,000 and $30,000, (Shs 62 and Shs 75m). This is part of the two-year project, funded to a tune of Shs 32bn by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), intended to strengthen early warning preparedness, contingency and response systems for the region.

The government has partnered the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to implement and supervise the project. Ameny says that solar-powered drip irrigation systems, which have been used successfully to transform farmers' livelihoods in arid parts of Kenya and Sudan, will come in handy for the people of Karamoja.

Currently, vegetables and cereals including cabbages, tomatoes, sorghum and maize are grown on small scale for both home consumption and sale in Napak and Nakapiripirit districts. Speaking to stakeholders at the launch of the project in Moroto last week, FAO Country Representative Alhaji Jallow said Karamoja was one of the regions already grappling with the effects of climate change.

Jallow noted that the severity of extreme weather incidents leading to floods, landslides and drought has increased in Karamoja over the past decades, eroding the productive assets and traditional coping capacities of the rural poor.

By Moses Mugalu

The Observer/29/01/2014