Parched no more

May 24, 2017

Zero-energy hydrams installed by the Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme and the Center for Rural Technology Nepal have enabled irrigation for the benefit of vegetable farmers in rural Kavre

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To reach Gyan Maya Tamang’s farm in Kavre, one must first undertake a bumpy ride along a narrow mountain road to Balthali village, then make one’s way down a steep cliff and across the Ladku stream. When you arrive, you will most likely find Gyan Maya tending to her crops: this season, she harvested 13 sacks, worth nearly 800 kilograms, of potato from her 0.15-hectare plot. But this feat would have been difficult if she had had to rely on the rains to water her farm, the way she might have done in the past; owing to a newly-installed irrigation system in the area, however, the fate of Gyan Maya’s harvest lay firmly in her own hands this time around.

The Global Environment Facility’s Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP) had worked with the Centre for Rural Technology Nepal (CRT/N) to install four units of hydraulic rams or hydrams—essentially an automatic water-pumping device—in Balthali. The funds were supported through Every Drop Matters—a joint initiative of UNDP and the Coca Cola company geared towards water conservation.

What makes the hydram so appropriate for higher-altitude areas such as this one is that no external energy is required to run it, according to Santosh Mandal, an engineer from CRT/N. “Hydrams use a large volume of water falling through a small head to lift a small amount of that water to a much greater height,” he says. A four-inch hydram can lift water to a height of 100 meters, and pump out 25,000 liters in 24 hours. In Balthali, the water has been collected in an overhead tank situated at a height above 76 meters, and is being used to irrigate three hectares of land belonging to 25 households.  

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A hydram-fed irrigation system is a reliable option since maintenance costs are low and spare parts, especially the valves, are manufactured locally by the CRT/N. “The annual maintenance fee in our case is only between Rs. 4,000 and 5,000, which can be generated easily if participating households could save Rs. 15 a month each,” says Shankar Lama, a local technician and the chairman of the irrigation management committee. “Because of the system’s reliability, locals have started growing vegetables in greenhouses and tunnels. They have already put up 23 greenhouses so far,” he adds.

Hari Gopal Gorkhali, the Executive Director of CRT/N, explains that one of the biggest problems to do with ensuring steady water supply in uphill communities in Nepal is that rivers flow to valley areas below. “This makes hydrams an ideal solution for the problem of water scarcity in hilly terrain,” he says. “This is why we have already installed hydrams in 22 other locations.”

In 2016, the hydram-fed irrigation initiative had won the Adaptation to Scale Encouragement Award, with a cash prize of 10,000 pounds, given by the Ideas to Impact programme funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). 

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