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Uganda: Farmers dig ponds to store irrigation water for dry periods

It’s a few minutes past midday. Anthony Ariong is constantly wiping beads of sweat from his forehead with the back of his left hand. He is digging a narrow passage with a hand hoe to open a channel from a pond. The channel will allow the water in the pond to flow into the trenches on his two-and-a-half acre piece of land and irrigate his green maize intercropped with cassava.

Mr. Ariong says: “My crops need water to avoid withering. I do this every six to eight days during dry seasons. My crops look healthier and with that, I expect a better harvest than crops that have not been irrigated.”

Mr. Ariong hails from Loletio village in Panyangara sub-county, in northeastern Uganda. He lost his job in 2015. To continue supporting his family, he started farming on land he had purchased while working in government. But his land is in an area where water is very scarce in dry seasons due to drought and erratic rains.

To preserve water for irrigation during these dry periods, Mr. Ariong dug seven ponds that trap and store water for irrigation.

The ponds are rectangular pits that are used by farmers in semi-arid areas mostly to harvest and store rainwater to irrigate crops during the dry season. The size varies, depending on what the farmer wants. Mr. Ariong’s biggest pond measures 24 by 15 metres.

Mr. Ariong learned how to store irrigation water from Mzee Simon Ochieng, who lives in Boke village in Tororo district. When Mr. Ariong was studying agriculture at the university in Tororo district, he visited Mr. Ochieng’s farm.

Mr. Ochieng says, “My intention was to show people from my area that they can grow crops here with the right agricultural methods—such as ponds.”

Mr. Ochieng says that ponds are easy to use and a good investment. Because the irrigated land is always moist, crops grow well. He adds, “Once it is dug, you use it for many years. The pond keeps water for eight to nine months, depending on the amount of rainfall that year.”

Bironika Aleri is a farmer in Loletio village who was impressed with Mr. Ariong’s ponds, and started to use the same technique. She hired two people to dig ponds for her.

Mrs. Aleri explains: “I ventured into ponds for a trial but I have never regretted it. I got a double harvest of maize last season. I was also able to grow and harvest beans, which I couldn’t before due to prolonged drought in this area.”

Benard Obin is the chairperson of the National Agricultural Advisory Services in Kotido district. He says farmers should always manage and store water during the rainy season because rains are unpredictable.

To minimize water losses when using water from ponds, Mr. Ariong dug a contour bund around his garden to reduce the speed of the water running in ditches and trenches. Reducing the speed of the water flow helps the water percolate into the soil.

The ponds have improved yields for many farmers in the area. Mr. Ariong now has bumper harvests, which have helped him generate enough income for his family.

He says: “I harvested 16 bags of beans and 20 bags of maize last season, which gave me 5,209,979 Ugandan shillings ($1,410 US) and 3,971,782 Ugandan shillings ($1,075 US) respectively. This has boosted my income for the next season.”

Mr. Ariong adds, “My family has enough food and I am able to pay tuition for my three children in good schools.”