Title : Smart farming tools for the enhancement of irrigation efficiency in The Gambia: A case study
In countries such as The Gambia, agriculture has a large role to play in reducing poverty. To that end, irrigation smart practices can be considered a contemporary and ecologically sustainable agricultural production system that supports the development of a water efficient economy and generates a high environmental, economic and social return. The informal irrigation sector in The Gambia, as in many other West African countries, is characterised by limited knowledge and skills in irrigation techniques, and lack of sufficient support services from extension agents and other advisory systems so as to realise its full potential. The high dependency on rainfall, weak policy environment, low levels of technology adoption, low private sector investment, and poor infrastructure are the main factors that result in low agricultural productivity. Increasing the availability of water to the agricultural sector is critical to improving agricultural productivity and transforming the sector to be more commercially and market oriented. This will help to meet the needs of the domestic and the tourism market, and make The Gambia less dependent on imported food. Considering the above, the current project in The Gambia targets a digital, lower-cost, easier-to-maintain Irrigation Advisory System (IAS), which is more adapted to the requirements and capacities of the agricultural target groups and greatly increases chances of sustainability and replicability in West Africa. The presentation will address ongoing project activities carried out in The Gambia addressed to smallholders and local stakeholders on efficient water management for irrigation. Fundación Sustalde is working closely with the National Agricultural Research Institute of The Gambia (NARI) to adapt and implement an IAS based on the calculation of evapotranspiration according to the FAO56 water balance model. For that, weather data is collected from meteorological stations. The IAS automatically processes meteorological data collected by the meteorological stations, and together with crop data, soil type and irrigation system, calculates the daily evapotranspiration of the crops. Based on this calculation, the IAS estimates the specific water needs of each crop and plot, and sends personalised irrigation recommendations to farmers registered. The IAS developed consists of a multi-language web platform that has a functionality for sending notifications via email and SMS to deliver irrigation recommendations to end users. So far, the IAS has been implemented in 14 farms and vegetable gardens in two cropping cycles in The Gambia, significantly reducing crop water requirements and increasing crop productivity.