Irrigation and Good Health

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT.

Irrigation is the watering of land by other than natural methods. Irrigation projects provide water for plants in areas that have long periods of little or no rainfall. A new study shows how irrigation projects can help improve the lives of people in different ways. The study found that irrigation projects have helped improve crop production in parts of Africa that have little rain. It also found that irrigation improved the health and diets of people in those areas.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization announced the findings. The U-N agency has said that increasing the use of irrigation could be the answer to feeding the world's people.

F-A-O officials say irrigated land is almost three times as productive as cropland dependant on rain. They say thirty to forty percent of the world's food comes from irrigated land.

During the next thirty years, about seventy percent of the additional food production in developing countries is expected to come from irrigated land. However, only four percent of African farmland south of the Sahara Desert has irrigation.

In the new study, F-A-O officials studied small irrigation projects in Burkina Faso, Mali and Tanzania. They found that the addition of small dams and wells resulted in changes in all three countries. For example, local people earned more money. They could pay for health care. And they could eat healthier foods.

In all three projects, irrigation increased food production or earnings by enough to provide an extra meal each day. This was true even during the period before the harvest.

For example, the report said a local dam in Mali gave farmers water to increase food production. The project also led to the production of new crops, such as vegetables rich in vitamins.

In Burkina Faso, some of the money earned from the sale of farm products was invested in health care. F-A-O officials say visits to local health care centers rose fifty percent over three years. In some families, the amount of money spent on health care rose from five to twelve percent.

In Tanzania, some women in villages traditionally spend hours getting water. The addition of wells meant that the women had time for more productive activities. So the women were trained to grow their own crops.

This VOA Special English AGRICULTURE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English