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‘Irrigation boosts agric’

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Local engineering firm, Mightyflow Irrigation says it has developed a new system to not only boost farming in the country, but to help fight the effects of climate change. The company’s technical director George Chungu (GC) speaks to NewsDay (ND) reporter Thomas Chidamba.

ND: You have developed a locally-manufactured state-of-the-art centre pivot irrigation system; tell us more about the initiative?

GC:  A centre pivot is a mechanised irrigation system which irrigates crops in a circular pattern around a central pivot. It consists of a radial pipe supported by towers that pivot around a centre point. Along the radial pipe, nozzles are equally-spaced. As it rotates, water is released from the nozzles and irrigates crops in a system that uses a radial pipe, water travels in a straight line down the field, with all nozzles covering the same area and having the same flow rate. Hence, the pivot system provides a high degree of uniformity of applied water.

A centre pivot system is applicable to almost all crops including arable crops, vegetables, and fruit trees. It can easily manage water levels in the soil due to the semi-automatic operation of centre pivots and its lateral moves.

I was greatly saddened to see my fellow farmers saying that pivots were out of reach and were only available for the elite and highly funded farmers. This made me think of designing my own which is cheaper than the conventional imported ones that were on the market.

ND: How is Mightyflow working to assist farmers to mitigate the impacts of climate change?

GC: We have a diverse range of products that are tailor-made to suit farmer’s sizes of land and budgets. We make centre pivots from 0,5 hectares (ha) to 7ha, water driven and 0,5ha to 80ha electric sizes as we understand that not everyone has the resources for the traditional sizes on the market.

Centre-pivot irrigation uses less labour than many other surface irrigation methods, such as furrow irrigation. It also has lower labour costs than ground-irrigation techniques that require digging of channels. Also, centre-pivot irrigation can reduce the amount of soil tillage. We have a programme for our farmers to make payment plans with reliable honest farmers who can deposit for a pivot and pay when they harvest. This makes it crucial for them to work hard and guarantee a good harvest to clear their balance.

ND: What is the area that your centre pivot irrigation system can cover?

GC: The size is determined by the budget and cost, all the information comes from the customer. We custom make size according to customer’s need and their budget. We also give guidance based on the crop that needs to be planted and the water available at that farm. We have a diverse range of products that are tailor made to suit customer’s size of land and pocket one has.

ND: How does the water-propelled centre pivot irrigation system work?

GC: This technology is a water-driven centre pivot irrigation system that works just like the other pivots, but the only difference is it uses water as a source of power. This system has greater coverage, is more efficient and guarantees that all the crops get sufficient water. The centre pivot is also a long-lasting watering solution than the other interventions that can be employed.

ND:  What are the advantages of using a centre pivot over other types of irrigation?

GC: A pivot system is the most efficient and effective irrigation system. Along with the irrigation of hectares of the field within a short period of time, the system also supports the application of fertilisers and pesticides.

Additionally, a centre pivot system can improve irrigation efficiency by using a single piece of farm machinery to perform several important farm practices.

The pivot is one of modern irrigation systems used in agriculture to make better use of the water resource. It is capable of operating on more uneven terrain than most irrigation systems.

The amount of water applied can be adjusted by changing the speed of the system and pivot centre systems can also be used to apply fertilisers and pesticides. Another advantage is that a relatively small amount of work is required. Pivots allow good watering. The device works automatically and maintenance costs are low, hence almost non-existent labour costs.

ND:  How is the company operating during the COVID-19 pandemic?

GC: The COVID-19 pandemic is having widespread effects on businesses across the world. Companies are already feeling the negative effect of the pandemic and we have been forced to adapt to what is going on.  We must work through as government continues to put in place ways to combat the spread of the virus. At Mightflow, we have scaled down operations, limiting our operations to field visits to clients, but generally limiting walk in clients into the office.

We have faced a lot of challenges in our line of business. We have tried our best to assist our local farmers with affordable centre pivot irrigation schemes but after trusting farmers with affordable irrigation solutions and flexi-payment plans, some end up not owning up on time when it comes to payment schedules. This has resulted in us screening heavily, those eligible for payment plans and this disadvantages potentially honest farmers.

ND: Are you working with local engineers in designing and manufacturing of centre pivot irrigation systems?

GC: The Mightyflow centre pivot is our brainchild and we actually need the support and confidence from the farmers and to a lesser extent fellow engineers. Even though we build and install the pivot from scratch and offer after service care, some farmers still feel they need to import the expensive pivots from across the border. They then call us to offer support services when the pivot gives them continuous problems.

ND: Is buying locally-manufactured centre pivot irrigation systems better than importing?

GC: It is by far better because it makes them cheap and the money stays in circulation within the country. We designed irrigation systems based on the needs of local customers. We also create a much broader range of product choices. Our thriving business creates jobs within the country. You will realise that globally-sourced items are often not readily available on the local market and can be resource-intensive to source locally.

ND: What is your appeal to the government?

GC: Government support is needed in this time of the pandemic and after. More importantly, we need government grants to access robotics and make these pivots at an even more reduced cost. We have potential to produce more centre pivot to assist our farmers.

ND:  How far do you think irrigation can assist local farmers?

GC: Irrigation is the artificial process of applying controlled amounts of water to land to assist in production of crops. Irrigation helps to grow agricultural crops, maintain landscapes, and revegetate disturbed soils in dry areas and during periods of less than average rainfall. Irrigation also has other uses in crop production, including frost protection, suppressing weed growth in grain fields and preventing soil consolidation.

Irrigation systems are also used for cooling livestock, dust suppression, disposal of sewage, and in mining. Irrigation is often studied together with drainage, which is the removal of surface and sub-surface water from a given location. This method
is the local solution and affordable and within reach of hardworking farmers with a vision to excel.

  • Follow Thomas on Twitter @chidambathomas

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