Edgar Ariza-Nino, Tailor-made irrigation

The Morocco Green Plan (Maroc Vert Plan) has implemented an ambitious awareness raising and financial assistance strategy to encourage farmers to change their irrigation methods substantially, particularly by installing irrigation basins within their farms, making the farmers responsible for managing the irrigation of their farmland on their own. But the farmers lack precise information for daily management of the water supply.

The MEC program and Office Régional de Mise en Valeur Agricole de la Moulouya (Regional Office for Agricultural Development of the Moulouya (ORMVAM) have joined forces to provide an advice and information service to farmers : a tailor-made irrigation!

Interview with Edgar Ariza-Nino, MEC Program monitoring and evaluation specialist.

What is the “SMS Information Service on Irrigation?”
The “ SMS information service on Irrigation” is a new service developed by the American Agency for International Development/Morocco Economic Competiveness Program (USAID/MEC) in collaboration with the Regional Office for Agriculture Development of Moulouya to allow farmers to identify the correct quantity of irrigation water to be applied to different crops. A daily SMS message is sent to the farmer with information on the number of cubic meters of water to be applied by hectare. The recommendations vary according to each crop type.

How does it work?
Weather data (precipitation, temperature, wind) is sent from the Slimania experimental weather station near Berkane. Using a specialized computer application developed by the program, we analyze the data to calculate the daily irrigation requirements based on the previous day’s weather. The application automatically generates a text message that is sent by SMS to the farmers with our recommendations. The farmers receive a message something like this, “Today for citrus trees in Berkane, 47 cubic meters of water per hectare are needed and in coastal regions, 57 cubic meters …..” The recommendations are personalized and are quite precise!

Why did you come with the service? What are its advantages for farmers?
The main objective is to save water. In the future, we think that water is going to become scarcer for agriculture. Therefore, it is important to take measures to optimize water use now.
In terms of saving money for the farmer, for each reduction of one cubic meter of irrigation water, there is a savings of about six or seven dirhams (about 90 cents). The economic benefit comes from not only saving water but also saving on the cost of pumping; to pump a cubic meter of water, it costs about 1 dirham. The result is if you have seven hectares of citrus trees and you economize 10 cubic meters of water per day, you’ll save about 50 dirhams a day ($7). Also for some plants, less water means less moisture and fewer weeds and pests. Overall, thanks to this service, the farmer controls his costs better.

What are the farmers’ reactions?
Up until now, feedback from farmers has been very positive. Every day, every week, we have additional requests from farmers to subscribe to the service – and this is without any marketing effort!

What do you see as the future of this service?
We are in a pilot phase. Currently, we work with a small group of farmers with fields in and around the Slimania weather station in Berkane. In the future, if the findings from the pilot phase are positive, we may extend it to all the farmers in the irrigated perimeter of Moulouya. We may also start a pilot service in the region of Doukkala in the area of Sidi Bennour.
At this stage, we use data from normal weather stations. One thing that will enable the expansion of this service is the falling cost of installing mini weather stations. Thanks to technological improvements, the equipment needed to put up a small weather station has become very reasonable – it costs about 250 dollars while only a few years ago, the cost would have been 10,000 to 15,000 dollars.