drip irrigation drip irrigation Drip irrigation is used to water crops in Africa. (Photo: Icrisat/Flickr)

Israeli experts teach irrigation techniques in West Africa

Drought-plagued nations learn how to manage their natural environment and become less dependent on imported food.

At Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal, students are learning to grow tomatoes, hot peppers and cucumbers using a network of plastic tubing, valves and pipes called drip irrigation.

It’s all part of Israel’s new effort to share expert agricultural knowledge with three West African nations – Senegal, Ivory Coast and Gabon. In Senegal, the agriculture students attend a program aptly named "field school," where Israeli experts teach the students drip irrigation and other water conservation techniques.

Drip irrigation can reduce the country's dependence on food imports by helping them farm year round. The technique was first invented in the 1960s and has since spread throughout the Middle East to Pakistan, Iran, Jordan, Cyprus and Egypt. It’s highly efficient because it delivers water without overwatering by dripping it directly to the roots.

drip irrigation photo Drip irrigation in a vegetable field. (Photo: Tooykrub/Shutterstock)

Agricultural students learn to calculate the number of irrigation hours needed based on the plant’s life cycle. The rest is as simple as turning the water on and off. One Senegalese student, 26-year-old farmer Thierno Sow, was skeptical of drip irrigation at first, but through the program, he has become convinced of its efficacy. He plans to take that knowledge back to his community and put it to work. Field school helps agricultural students like him get a leg up in the job market.

The program is significant on two fronts: it shows West African farmers how to deal with a climate riddled with constant droughts, and it allows a country like Senegal, which imports 80 percent of its food, to be less dependent on the global food market.

In 2012, Dr. Daniel Hillel, the Israeli scientist and inventor who pioneered drip irrigation, was awarded the World Food Prize for his work in preventing food shortages. His techniques led him to be called the "father of sustainable management." Today, drip irrigation is used on 15 million acres worldwide.

"The task of improving the sustainable management of the Earth's finite and vulnerable soil, water and energy resources for the benefit of humanity, while sustaining the natural biotic community and its overall environmental integrity, is an ongoing and increasingly urgent challenge for our generation and for future generations," Hillel said.

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