Irrigate Smartly, Feed Abundantly
The global imperative of achieving food security is a challenge with a practical solution, one that we at Netafim have been advocating for since our inception more than 50 years ago: drip irrigation. Time and time again, with different crops, under a variety of climate and soil conditions, drip irrigation has proven to be a cost- and resource-efficient way to deliver up to double yields with improved quality, less waste, fewer added nutrients and far less water. Farmers using our smart irrigation solutions achieve up to a 50 percent to 100 percent increase in yield and income and up to 40 percent reduction in production costs, turning economic stress and food insecurity into sustainable opportunity.
Drip irrigation also deploys technology for greater precision and efficiency. Incorporating some of the world's most advanced agriculture technology, Netafim's digital farming solutions are helping farmers grow more and healthier food with less water and fertilizer. These cutting-edge solutions are bringing us one step closer not only to overcoming water scarcity but also to achieving climate-smart food security across the globe.
In crops as diverse as almonds grown in California, olives in Italy, vines in France, bananas in the Philippines, tomatoes in Israel, rice in India, corn in China and Brazil and a range of fruit and vegetables in Asia and Africa, drip irrigation delivers its promise: serving the world’s food demands while demonstrating responsible environmental practice. It’s an obvious solution. If all the world’s lands used for agriculture were drip-irrigated, the result would make millions of tons of crops for food and feed available in a sustainable way. Thousands of smallholder farmers would improve their livelihoods and quality of life.
And yet, globally, only 5 percent of irrigated agricultural land uses drip. Despite our best efforts and tireless knowledge-sharing and communications efforts, we find that traditional farming methods are hard to change, and governments are slow to take up the challenge by assisting farmers with incentives and financing for installing local drip solutions. But, there are many success stories.
Take the case of Giuliano Menghini, a family dairy farmer in Mantova in the Lombardy region of Italy, known for his parmesan cheese production. He cultivates his forage crops — corn and alfalfa — in small plots of five to 20 hectares, up to a total of around 120 hectares, to feed his dairy cows. Traditionally, Giuliano irrigated his farmland with a rain gun, but this method is labor-intensive and does not guarantee consistent high quality. For the best parmesan production, Giuliano’s cows must feed on high-quality cornmeal free of toxins that can be formed if the corn crop suffers from excessive humidity on the cobs, as often happens when using a rain gun. After converting to Netafim’s drip irrigation solution, Giuliano’s first year of drip saw a 20 to 25 percent increase in yield and toxin-free corn. The result is that the cows are happier, the costs are lower, water use is almost halved, the yield is higher and the parmesan is better!
On Mindanao Island in the South Philippines, Netafim supports major banana growers. The Philippines is the world's fourth largest banana producer and a key banana producing center with the largest banana plantation in the world. The growth of the banana market has been impressive, but there have also been challenges. For example, a reappearance of Panama disease (which wiped out the former leading cultivar of bananas) caused growers to change from using surface water, which was often contaminated, to using groundwater, which is scarce. Understanding the challenges that growers faced, we adapted our technologies to deliver a customized block-based irrigation system supported by affordable automation and modular NutrigationTM solutions. A simple plug-and-play solution for crop management control enables farmers to get the best out of their crop with minimum personal intervention for the rainy and dry seasons. Together with technical and agronomic seminars and training for various customers, we help Mindanao farmers get the best bananas from their investment in all seasons and conditions. That means more and better nutritious bananas to feed the world and more reliable livelihoods for farmers.
In Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific, it’s not so easy to grow salad vegetables on the 2.6 percent of arable land in this island nation. Some people, unfortunately, learn the hard way. Our customer, having established a new five-hectare greenhouse farm with a further hectare of trestle-grown crops to grow cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and peppers, was getting yields well below a sustainable financial threshold. After three years of trying to improve both quality and yield, our customer was desperate. Our experienced agronomists immediately installed crop management technology (CMT) for full automation, reset irrigation patterns, revised NutrigationTM protocols, trained local staff, established measuring stations to track water drainage and got the system up and running to standards that our customer hadn’t believed possible. The result was producing a much higher yield of several tons of tomatoes per week, reducing water use to less than half and drastically reducing the cost of fertilizer.
M. Parthasarathy, a farmer from Tamil Nadu, was chosen from among 30 nominees to receive the 2015 Innovative Rice Farmer Award granted by the Indian Institute of Rice Research in Hyderabad. The award was granted for the cultivation of rice with drip irrigation and the application of a crop rotation that increased yields by 20 percent and decreased water usage by 60 percent. Mr. Parthasarathy is just one of the thousands of farmers in India we support with drip irrigation.
The story is the same wherever we go, and we have a story from almost every country in the world. Drip irrigation is a primary sustainable, climate-smart, water-friendly and yield-enhancing solution to food security. We believe that large corporations should insist on and incentivize drip irrigation in their food supply chains and that governments, especially in developing economies where smallholder farmers are challenged to make an initial investment, should provide access to finance and initial support for better farming practice.
Growing more with less has always been our mantra. Now, more than ever, achieving greater food security with fewer resources is just as relevant and just as attainable.