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Snow harvesting – An innovative irrigation method

Dhan Bahadur Kathayat, Mahananda Joshi and Sadananda Upadhaya

Farmers traditional practice with a little adaptation has resulted in enhancing the quality and quantity of apple production in Jumla district in Nepal. This low-cost technology has been most helpful for those farming communities with lesser water resources. Valuing the significance, this innovation has been institutionalized by the Government of Nepal to support apple farmers.

 

Rolling of snow ball

Agriculture, the backbone of the Nepalese economy provides employment to 66% of the total population and contributes 33% to the GDP. Jumla district ranks top in terms of area and production of apple. There is a steady increase in the area as well as production of apple. Apple is produced under rainfed conditions dependent upon the winter snowfall and summer rainfall. Lack of irrigation is considered as one of the prime reasons for the poor quality of apples in this region.

Farmers have been collecting snowfall during the winter season and irrigating apple trees by piling it around the base of the apple trees. However, the practice has resulted in disease incidence. In order to improve this traditional, innovative practice, an action research was conducted to explore if the snowfall could be collected in a plastic pond.  Thus, an action research was conducted to improve the farmer’s traditional practice of snowfall collection around the apple tree in an improved way in the year 2014-15 through the Climate Smart Agriculture Project (CSA), supported by SNV, Nepal. The action research study was conducted jointly in Jumla district of Nepal in collaboration with District Agriculture Development Office (DADO) and local organization, Surya Samajik Sewa Sang (4S).

Action research

In 2014, the District Agriculture Development Office (DADO), conducted focused group discussion with about 600 farmers to prepare the Agriculture Development Plan of Jumla district. This was done in collaboration with different organizations like Forest Action, LI-BIRD, World Vision and Italian Foundation. The idea was to find whether the snowfall during the winter season (Dec-Feb) could be collected in Silpolin plastic pond and water be generated after melting.


The snow harvested in each pond was enough to irrigate approximately 120-130 plants in the orchard.


The study was conducted in two villages, namely,  Mahat and Kartikswami in Jumla district. Three farmers namely Hansha Mahat, Narbir Kami and Amrita Chaulagain were selected to conduct action research on snow harvest plastic pond irrigation. The farmers were selected to see whether this new idea of collecting snow during winter months could be successful or not.  These farmers had a minimum of 25 apple trees with no irrigation source. They provided their time and willingness to share cost in the research. The selected farmers were provided training on the stepwise process of snow harvest collection and the orchard management practices.

The digging of the pond was done during the month of August, just after the completion of the monsoon season. This made the digging easy. Although the idea was to dig a pond of 3x1x1 meter volume size, the final volume of the pond after farmers dug was 3×1.1×1.2m. After digging the pond, the silpolin plastic of 150 GSM was laid inside the pond. The laying of plastic in the pond is a crucial action. The pond was made free from roots, stones or rocks in order to prevent the damage of the plastic. The average cost of the pond came to be around Nepalese rupee 17,900. The detail of the cost items is listed in Table 1.

Table 1: Cost of constructing plastic pond (3×1.1×1.2 m size)

S.No Cost items Rate Total amount
1 Materials
Silpolin plastic (150 GSM)-1 number 12500 13500
Digging materials (shovel)-2 set 1000 2000
2 Labor cost
Digging pond (3X1.1X1.2 m size)

 

4 man-days @600/day 2400
Total cost 17900

 

 

During the study period, the snowfall occurred several times in a span of 3 months (December-February). Each time after the snowfall, it was collected in the plastic pond. The collection of snow was done for 4 times. In the study, the snowballs were rolled over the ground and moved slowly into the pond to avoid damage to plastic sheets.

Snow balls rolled over and harvested in the pits

Each time the pond was filled up with the snowball, it started to melt with rise in temperature. The measurement was done every time after the snowball was added to it. The final measurement of the three ponds was done after the snowballs had completely melt, during the end of April. The melted water was measured.  To reduce the evaporation losses, the pond was covered with mulch material from tree trunks and pine leaves.

All three farmers were trained to select 5 trees for control (no irrigation) and 5 five trees for irrigation. Melted snow was applied at the rate of 5 liters/plant with plant age being 10 years. Each plant was irrigated five times coinciding with the five critical stages of apple production.  The five critical stages at which the snowmelt water was applied were: fertilizer application stage – end of January; bud sprouting period – end of February; flowering time- 2nd week of March; fruit setting stage – end of April and marble size fruit stage -2nd week of May.

The apple trees receiving snowmelt water were mulched with pine leaves to minimize evaporation loss. Some qualitative parameters like fruit size, number of fruits per kilogram weight and Total Soluble Solid (TSS) content was recorded. In order to measure the Brix percentage, a refractometer was used.

Results

The amount of water collected in all plastic ponds of 3 farmers orchards from 4 consecutive collections of snow was 3710, 4110, and 4310 liters respectively. The average water that was harvested from the snowfall was 4044 liters/pond. Since the water collected in the pond was applied at the rate of 5 litres/plant in 5 critical stages, the total water applied for one single tree was 25 litres. Based on this application, the average water harvested (i.e. 4044 litres) in each pond was enough to irrigate, approximately, 120-130 plants in the orchard. Although the amount of water applied to the apple tree was very less compared to the general water requirement of 250 – 400 mm, the scarce snow-melt water was applied near the root zone. The feeder roots of the apple trees lie in the top 1-20 cm of soil profile. Mulching was done to mitigate the evaporation loss. Pine leaves of about 10 cm thickness were applied around the base of the tree. Earlier, research has shown that the trees with mulching have a higher percentage of roots in this topsoil profile, which was anticipated as water applied could be taken by the roots effectively. Mulching helped in maintaining moisture, especially in the water stress region. Although the water requirement of the apple trees might depend upon the variety, soil type, and orchard management practices adopted by the farmers, this innovation has helped in managing water for apple farming.

The farmers using snow collected water and better management practices reported higher yield with good quality harvest compared to non-irrigated ones. Similarly, the number of fruits per kilogram in irrigated apple trees ranged from 6-8 as compared to 9-12 fruits/kg in non-irrigated trees. The grading of fruits was done as A (> 75mm), B (65-74mm) and C (< 64 mm) based on diameter. Greater number of A-grade fruits were observed in irrigated trees than in non-irrigated trees. The Brix percentage of fruits in all irrigated plants ranged from 11-14 as compared to 10-12 in non-irrigated plants.

Upscaling the innovation

Water harvested in each pond was sufficient to irrigate around 125 trees in the orchard

The innovative practice in three farmer’s orchards was a key success, revealing that snow-melt water could be preserved in the plastic pond and used during critical stages of apple production.  The use of water at the critical stages resulted in improved fruit size with more TSS percentage, thereby enhancing the quality of the fruit.  As a validation to the innovation, 150 farmers from different villages were selected in the year 2016 and the same process of snow harvest was repeated. In the year 2016, about 130 farmers were able to collect snow in the plastic pond. The success of the innovation was broadcasted from the local and national FM radio station and  television. A Joint Secretary led team from Ministry of Agriculture Development visited the farmer’s orchard. Since the Directorate of Extension under Department of Agriculture has been supporting small irrigation schemes like rainwater harvest, plastic pond irrigation, small and medium canal irrigation (construction and maintenance) in Nepal, the Ministry later re-amended the Plastic Pond Irrigation Directive 2065 (2008) and added provision to support snow-harvest pond irrigation in the directive. The innovation has now been institutionalized in the government program to support the apple farmers in Himalayan districts of Nepal.

References

D.B. Kathayat., G., R., D.B. Gautam, Ten Years Agriculture Development Plan of Jumla District. Kathmandu, 2016, Nepal: District Agriculture Development Committee.

DADO. 2017. Annual Report [Online]. District Agriculture Development Office. http://www.dadojumla.gov.np

Dhan Bahadur Kathayat

Agriculture Extension Officer,

Ministry of Agriculture Development (currently a postgraduate student in Agribusiness at Melbourne University, Australia.)

 Mahananda Joshi

Senior Planning Officer,

Ministry of Agriculture Development (currently a postgraduate student in Agribusiness at Melbourne University, Australia.)

 SadanandaUpadhaya

Program Coordinator,

Climate Smart Agriculture Project,

Surya SamajikSewa Sang ( 4S).