Responsive drip irrigation

RDI provides the best and most efficient package for small-holding local farmers and roof-top kitchen gardening

Responsive drip irrigation

To mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change and resolve water issues in agriculture, the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council (PARC) scientists in collaboration of Eva Anna Agro Farms have tested responsive drip irrigation (RDI) “the world’s first and only plant-responsive water delivery system” also known as RDI.

The advanced irrigation system, introduced by the PARC scientists, is adaptable to harsh climatic conditions. The RDI technology, first developed in the USA and introduced in various geographical regions, is being adopted by big companies in Africa and the UAE. It has been tested in Pakistan after more than a decade of research. It was commercially released in 2018.

When crops and plants need water and nutrients, plant roots emit signals that allow them to uptake moisture and nutrients from the surrounding soil. RDI tubes which are installed near root zone interact and respond to these root signals and release water and nutrients out of the billions of “smart micropores” in the tubes.

These tubes provide a slow-release of water that matches the absorption capacity of the plant roots. When the plant is satiated, it stops producing the signals and the tubes stops releasing water. The system delivers what each plant needs, when they need it.

The RDI is an entirely new mechanism of water delivery to plants. It increases crop yield by reducing stress and allowing each and every plant to self-regulate its own water and nutrient delivery. It results in an unmatched 90 percent water and nutrient saving, about 70 percent energy cuts and 20-50 percent yield increase compared to conventional drip irrigation.

It has minimal energy costs and does not need any electronic components - just a water source with a pressure of 2 psi. Irrigation design is also simple and based on long-term renewable farming practices. This improves soil health, conserves environment and mitigates climate change.

Unlike a conventional irrigation system, the RDI involves automated decision-making as it does not require human estimation of when and how much water is required. Rather, the interaction between plant roots and microspores automatically does the task.

However 24/7 water availability in the tubes is important. It has millions of microscopic openings along its surface to release water and does not require any filtration as opposed to normal drip systems that have emitters and are subject to clogging leading to malfunction.

These tubes provide a slow-release of water that matches the absorption capacity of the plant roots. Once the plant is satiated, it stops producing root signals and the tubes stop releasing water. It delivers what each plant needs, when they need it. 

These tubes, installed near root zone, work as a response-based system just like a normal man’s brain and whenever plant signals for dehydration it releases water and nutrients through its billions of “smart microspores.”

The PARC has tested this unique technology on vegetables (tomato, cabbage, broccoli and salad, etc) at the NARC and farmers’ fields in Chakri and Balksar. Results certify 40-60 percent water savings and 15-30 percent increase in crop production. This will be most suitable in dry, hot and water-scarce regions of Balochistan, Sindh, southern Punjab, the KPK, Thar and Cholistan.

RDI has more water saving capacity due to control of evaporation during hottest seasons. It will be a greatest blessing for water-starved and vulnerable communities of Thar and Balochistan. It has a high capital cost initially but the government can provide a subsidy to generate livelihoods in poor communities. This will be equally applicable and beneficial for the saline water of Thar and Cholistan for kitchen gardening, arid horticulture, fodder and rangelands.

If we have to achieve household and farmer food security, social equality, and economic opportunity, we need solutions-oriented thinking that empowers stakeholders and communities to take actions. If farmers in the fragile regions are to prosper in the face of climate change, we need to de-risk their efforts to innovate.

The provision of innovative irrigation technologies like RDI, greenhouse tunnels and proper arid horticulture production technology is key to de-risking livelihoods, farming enterprises and value chains. With little public investment, RDI can improve livelihoods of vulnerable communities, ensuring their food security. With wise planning, it can also boost rain-fed agriculture.

RDI provides the best and most efficient package for small-holding local farmers and roof-top kitchen gardening. With government assistance, our youth can opt for peri-urban farming models developed by the PARC as a career if some easy start-up loan or public support and training are provided.

The writer is Director, Climate Energy and Water Research Institute of Pakistan Agriculture Research Council having 25 years of experience in micro-irrigation and water management

Responsive drip irrigation