SEATTLE — Paraguay has recently battled an ecological crisis: severe drought. The Pilcomayo River, which descends from the Bolivian Andes Mountains, hit its lowest level of the past 19 years in 2016. The river suffered an extensive die-off of wildlife (including caimans and capybara), with 98 percent suspected dead and 80 percent dead. As the once permanent layer of water dried up into mud, livestock also began to suffer from water scarcity.
Dealing with Drought in Paraguay
The drought alone posed a widespread threat to wildlife and agriculture, and has become a major contributor to hunger in Paraguay. But when paired with the mismanagement of water resources and infrastructure by the Paraguayan government, the crisis became irreversibly exacerbated.
Due to extensive unequal land distribution, smallholder farmers, such as those affected by the drought, have been left behind. Most farmers along bone dry rivers own small ranches and lack resources for digging wells and pumping fresh water to their animals. However, with help from an Israeli company called Netafirm, these farmers can make the most out of every drop of water and alleviate hunger in Paraguay for those suffering from the drought.
Using a technique called drip irrigation, Netafirm has achieved greater crop yield using half the water. Israeli engineer Simcha Blass first invented drip irrigation in the 1960s. This technology has proven to be very compatible with the agricultural practices of Paraguayan farmers.
An alternative to flood irrigation, the drip system directs available water directly onto the roots of plants, therefore minimizing the potential for water loss in the process. Although some irrigation experts have expressed concern about drip irrigation, as water does not return to underground aquifers, the technique can bring unparalleled relief to individual farmers who experience water scarcity.
In Paraguay, collaboration between Paraguayan Federation of Production Cooperatives and Israel brought the delivery of the drip irrigation system to 13 small farms in June 2016. A local Paraguayan representative, Agroganadera Pirapey, deployed installation and maintenance, with the beneficiary farmers expected to disseminate the newly acquired knowledge.
While drip irrigation has the potential to aid these small farmers, this approach acts merely as a band-aid for far more serious underlying causes of hunger in Paraguay. In order to genuinely address the problem, it’s imperative that the country implements national strategies that incorporate the human rights of these farmers in so as to protect their land and livelihoods through governmental support.
– Richa Bijlani