Water conservation technology helps fight food insecurity in Northern Ghana

In Northern Upper East Ghana, a water conservation technology is enabling about 400 smallholder farmers (SHF) from 10 communities to farm in dry seasons.  As a result they are now getting at least two crop seasons annually as opposed to one, after implementing the PAVE irrigation Technology (PIT) which harvests flood and rain water, and stores it in underground aquifers where it lasts for up to 180 days. 

This German sourced technology is being implemented in the Northern Upper East Ghana region which has the longest drought spell in the country, by Conservation Alliance International (CAI). Researchers from CAI, saw how excess flood waters during rainy seasons, destroyed farmlands, and yet the waters could be stored in underground aquifers, and be extracted, to irrigate in dry seasons. 

These underground aquifers are recharged through an elongated outer pipe which injects surface water and run offs during floods, into the ground’s wet fractures that hold the water. Through PIT about 17 million gallons of water stored in these aquifers have been used to irrigate land for these Ghana SHFs. During the dry seasons, the water is extracted for irrigation using an ordinary small water pump. 

According to Dr. Yaw Osei-Owusu CAI Ghana regional director, they also observed that water scarcity in dry seasons is not only in Northern Ghana, but other arable regions of West Africa, raising the need to test PIT’s effectiveness.

 “Land was not utilized in dry season, they (farmers) are now engaged in farming all year, reducing the idling time (which happened) during the long drought periods,” said Dr Owusu. 

With PIT implemented, the SHFs in the region are tapping the water stored in aquifers to farm during the dry seasons. Their incomes have also increased by 40 percent since they have began growing high value vegetables and fruits like Okra, jute leaves, roselle hibiscus, lettuce, carrots, and watermelons which are in high demand during dry seasons there.  Hotels, restaurants, and households scramble to buy these highly nutritional vegetables in dry seasons, since they are scarce.  

For PIT to be effective when implemented, the soil needs to have the ability to hold water. Soils with sandstone formations according to Dr Owusu work well with the technology as well as other soils with water holding capacity. PIT’s implementation depends on the location, and it is modified to fit the prevailing conditions of any region. Materials used in its construction can easily be found in any country.

Besides Ghana, PIT has also been implemented in Liberia and Sierra Leone and on average costs $USD 6,000 to install and such a unit can be used by up to 10 farmers.  According to Dr Owusu this is cheaper since some aquifer recharge technology cost up to $30,000. “Cost aside PAVE (PIT) is much resistant to high floods and farmers can easily maintain it,” he said.