By Yigzaw Dessalegn and Worku Teka
Dembia District of Amhara region has a huge potential for irrigation development. The district is located at the shore of Lake Tana, along several streams and rivers and has a plain topography. Farmers produce vegetables by pumping water from Lake Tana, Megech River and a number of streams.
In support of this effort, the local government arranged access to credit for smallholder farmers there to enable them to buy irrigation pumps. As a result, between 2005 and 2014, 862 pumps were distributed in the district. Because of the economic benefits of irrigated agriculture, many farmers have bought their own pumps, some owning more than one, which they use to move water to distant farmlands through a relay system or rent to other farmers.
But pump break downs are common because of incorrect operation and lack of maintenance. Many farmers are unable to read and understand the pump manuals which are written in English and pump maintenance services were available only at Kola Diba, the district capital where they were offered by a few people and are expensive.
A participant in a platform meeting organized in Dembia by the Livestock and Irrigation Value chains for Ethiopian Smallholders project (LIVES) project, acknowledged this problem saying ‘the pumps are in the field but service providers are found several kilometers away from the irrigation sites, in town’.
The meeting discussed ways of providing practical training to farmers and service providers on pump operation and maintenance. It also offered training to 13 experts and 59 farmers from Dembia, Gondar Zuria and Lay Armacheho districts in two cycles in December 2013 and July 2014.
Priest (Kese) Belete Mola was one of the farmers in the district who received the training on pump operation and maintenance service. During this training he learned about the different parts of irrigation pumps, proper operation procedures, signs and most common causes of pump failure and assembling and disassembling pumps.
Following the training, he purchased the necessary tools for ETB 660.50 (USD 32) from Gondar town to test his knowledge and skill by disassembling and assembling his own pump. He succeeded on his first attempt and started providing pump maintenance and repair service to farmers in his village, Guramba Michael. Having found about his skills, farmers from neighboring Kebeles now bring to him pumps for repair. Kese Belete says he repaired and maintained 40 pumps in the 2013/14 irrigation season and 87 pumps in the 2014/15 irrigation season. The maintenance and repair service charge ranges from ETB 150 to 200 per pump depending on the type of service he provides and farmers can pay for maintenance service charges in the form of labour if they are short of cash.
He says the use of poor quality oil is the most common cause of pump failure which causes the pump to overheat. Kese Belete provides free advisory services on how to keep the pumps well maintained his customers. Other trainees in the district such as Yirga Atalo, have been inspired by Kese Belete Mola to start providing pump repair and maintenance service in their villages.
Farmers say the availability of repair services at the kebele level has helped them reduce the time needed to access these services, offers alternative payment methods apart from cash and is much cheaper. Farmers can now easily repair their equipment which prevents frequent breakdowns and they get advisory service on effective pump operation.
According to Elfeneshe, a development agent at the Guramba Michael peasant association, the availability of these services has helped many farmers’ whose crops would have failed during drought’.
This story also proves that farmers have the ability to maintain or repair pumps if they are trained practically and are coached/mentored as well. However, inadequate availability of pump spare parts in the capital of the district remains a challenge to this system but LIVES is working, with partners to improve availability of pump spare parts in Dembia.