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Regenerative Agriculture through Drip Irrigation Systems, Three-Sisters Garden Model and Small-scale Animal Farming: A Reflection from the Past

Drip Irrigation installed about 30cm away from raised-beds at a height of 1m.
Source: RESPECT Ghana

The world is presently experiencing major changes that have been largely linked to anthropogenic activities and these changes influence the climate systems, leads to variations in the Earth's climate systems. “Global Warming” is causing many devastating changes in the earth’s global climate systems which also have significant implications on landforms, biodiversity, water systems, and atmospheric system. There is a need to take drastic actions now, if our species is to survive throughout the next 25 years. In order to continue to survive as a species, there is a need for us to become more proactive both at the local, national, and international levels on how we use our energy sources for a more sustainable future. A future that not only define our species, but also take into careful account our neighbors the plants, animals, water, land, air, and all those microscopic living and non-living things that make life possible. We need to approach this through an integrated, holistic, and eco-efficient manner that will encompass all the features previously noted to support life. One way in doing this is to revisit our current agricultural systems and food system and make it more sustainable, local, organic, eco-efficient, and regenerative that the system will not only support our selfish existence, but also contribute to sustainability of other organisms.

Developing the raised-beds 1m x 15m and installing the drip systems. Tillage were done manually with garden hand tools. Green manure were buried in the middle of the raised-beds at 20cm depth sprinkled with water and dirt from termites hills applied to enhance quick biochemical decomposition of green manure.

 A total of 8 raised-beds completed and ready for seedlings to be transplanted.

Callord green (Brassica oleracea) plants 1 week after being transplanted. Cut prior vegetation (grasses) were stored to serve as mulch to control weed, minimize evaporation, reinforce soil moisture content, and add nutrients to the soil once decomposed.

This support platform (scaffold) is made out of locally accessible materials. It is built in this way for another reason apart from the physical support feature and that is to provide pressure or mechanical energy as you may term it that will drive the water throughout the drip irrigation system, since the system is self regulated. In general, the scaffold is built about 20cm from the edge of the raised-bed and should stand at a height of 1m. This height will drive the water throughout the drip kit irrespective of the length of the system.

Topsoil on each raised-bed were mulch subsequently.

Callord green (Brassica oleracea) being produced using drip irrigation

A closer look three weeks after transplanting the seedlings.

In 2002, I was fortunate to work with RESPECT Ghana a non-profit, community-based organization working with refugees from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast at the Buduburam Refugee Camp located about 45 Km from Accra, the capital city of the Republic of Ghana. As a community based non-profit organization, one of our goals was to create social change through the introduction of the drip irrigation system as a more environmentally friendly and sound, sustainable, and cost-effective method to produce crops. Through partnership with the Healing Hands International base in Tennessee, which provided on-farm training for 14 days in drip irrigation technology and the concept of survival gardening and with donated drip irrigation systems from Chaplin Watermatics, a New York-based non-profit organization, we were able to set up on farm training workshops with local community organic farmers to train them about the drip irrigation system and how it works and its ecological, environmental, and resource conservation benefits.

Cloth cover the bucket to remove debris from the water being used in the system.

In June 2002, a group of 50 local farmers were trained about the drip irrigation system and at the end of their training each participant was given 5 drip irrigation systems to set up on their farms. As a result of training, the 50 farmers that participated in the training decided to establish a local farmers association using their new learned skills to teach other local farmers who were not train to also learn about the drip irrigation system. With this new association, the local farmers were able to eliminate their use of inorganic fertilizers and other forms of agrochemicals that were being used, which have significant impact not just on the physical environment, but also on the chemical processes of the soil, air quality, water resources, their health and finances. With this new technology the farmers’ children were able to spend lesser time watering the crops and devoted more of their time in school and doing other activities. This also helped them minimized their dependence on farm stores to purchase the necessary chemicals needed, because now local farmers were also taught how to use various local plants’ materials to do mulching, serve as a scare crow, taught how to use both plants and animals residues to carry on composting or manuring and how to develop manure or compost tea when applied to plants via drip irrigation grows like the plants were on steroids. Off-course they were, but this time not the usual agrochemicals, but organic steroids accessed locally, environmentally sustainable, and were familiar to plants because they were made from their residues and from animals waste.

2 Weeks after seedlings were transplanted and green manure applied by mulching.

The drip irrigation method also allowed the farmers to concentrate their organic gardening on a particular piece of land as oppose to developing large commercial or industrial farms. They also used different farming methods and practices to enhance the soil texture, structure, chemistry, biology, and composition, thus allowing them to farm on the same piece of land without losing soil texture, moisture content, structure, nutrients, and micro-organisms. The drip irrigation system not just change the farmers’ view about how to farm, but it served as a medium of social change and empowerment for gardeners, because those 50 trainees were able to unite and use their new skills and knowledge to create a movement that changed the way crops were produced and animals were raised. That paradigm shift created a system of food production that was own by farmers, environmentally friendlier than the status quo, cost-effect in terms of inputs versus outputs ratio, eco-efficient, protects natural systems and reinforce their conservation, and more importantly, it leaves enough money in their pulses and pockets about marketing surpluses. 

It is my hope that this movement will also continue to spread throughout the world even to more industrialized nations such as the United States, Russia, and Denmark. Using the drip irrigation systems in our local gardens and farms will not only boost production, but will also minimize the amount of energy we use on a daily basis to power our heavy duties farm machineries. It will also enhance the soil water content, chemistry, biology, and texture by keeping soil wet for the plants. Microscopic organisms living in the soil will not be destroyed as a result of chemicals we use in the soil, because we no longer need them. The limited water resources we have will be significantly protected and conserved, because water supply through the use of the drip irrigation system will drastically reduce the amount of water we traditionally use to water our crops during the morning and evenings. The drip irrigation system allows water to be supplied just around the root system of the plants and water will be dripped or distributed at equilibrium. The system significantly reduced the growth rate of weeds (unwanted crops growing in your garden), because water wasting on unnecessary land speed up the growth of weeds. Weeds growth and development will also be controlled by employing sustainable and regenerative farming practices such as mulching or green manure mulching. Also, using the drip system reduce that problem.

Now, let us put the magic of the drip irrigation kit in perspective. Traditionally, it would take you about 10 watering cans containing 7 liter each to irrigate each 1m X 15m vegetable raised-beds in our case as you can see in this picture. Using this formulation, it would require us using the watering cans to irrigate all 10 beds (1m x 15m) 100 cans of water and about 700 liters of water. Viola!!! How about that!? However, with the drip irrigation kits, we only used 1 watering can to irrigate each bed, meaning, we actually used 1 watering can of 7 liters of water for each 1m x 15m raised-beds and guess what, each plant out of the 30 freshly growing cabbage plant receives equal amount of water just right to the roots of plant where it is needed. Not on the leaves, not on the stems, not spilling in the walkways or drainage systems, etc, but right where water is needed for plant growth and development. The zone of elongation, that is where the drip systems surgically delivers the water. So, in total we actually used 10 watering cans of 7 liters (70 liters) instead of 90 cans and 630 liters of excess and unnecessary water. Can you see the water savings magic and potential here? Again, not to mention the time, labor, cost, energy, and depletion of the limited water source available to local farmers.

The late Mr. Alfred Kayee, Farm Manager, getting ready to apply water to the drip kit. Alfred later became the Program Manager of RESPECT Ghana.

This is the limited landlocked water source that is available for smallholder farmers/gardeners at the camp, which usually dries out before the growing season ends using the traditional irrigation system via watering cans at the camp. The drip irrigation would protect this limited resource, while using water eco-efficiently and regeneratively.

Growing Black Beauty (Eggplant) with drip irrigation. We had some positive experience with heavy rainfall that lasted for 1 straight week and our raised-beds received minimum impact.

Okra (Okro) through drip systems. You can still see the drainage fill with water from the heavy rainfall and insects took the opportunity to invade, but sorry (insects), we got you out by applying biochemical 
liquid from the Neem Tree (Azadirachta indica) 

A 1 lb black beauty (Eggplant) still holding on. It was harvested and weight to determine the total weight compared with others.

In the next fifteen (15) years, one way we can truly “go green” is by installing drip systems in our backyard gardens or on our farms to produce our own vegetables as oppose to purchasing our food items and vegetables from the “big box mulls.” Going green doesn’t only apply to driving hybrid cars, purchasing energy efficient appliances or using our heat and electricity wisely, but also means eating local food items produce locally as oppose to food being shipped from other countries thousands of miles away from home. Going green also means providing the soil, water, air and microscopic organisms that support life. Going green means providing farmers of less develop countries with the drip irrigation kit systems so that those farmers can stop destroying the forest and ecosystem. By providing the drip irrigation systems or other technologies on a larger scale to farmers all around the world. We will be saving money and the money can be used for other purposes. The land will also be able to recover from the stresses that we have induced on the it by our activities. Greenhouse gases emission will be offset significantly because we will be burning fewer fossil fuels to power our agricultural sectors should we employ eco-efficient and regenerative practices and methods. The drip irrigation system is a healthy system and this is not just to agriculture, but it also spreads to the economy, government, and other institutions. This is the best medium through which our energy in agriculture can be reduced if not eliminated.

Another system of regenerative and eco-efficient agriculture I was introduced to by a friend during from the U.S. during her trip to Ghana in 2005 was the Native American system of companion planting, known as "The Three-Sisters Model." I purchased a book written by Alice Formiga ( in which she discussed the methods and provided the ecological benefits, background, etc. A copy of the book can also be purchased from the link cited above. Well, Jackie Rahm, Director of Shaping New Worlds, a non-profit educational institution base in Alaska, which seeks to reclaim indigenous knowledge. Mrs. Rahm visited the camp to see our work described above with drip irrigation at which time she introduced the three-sisters methods to us. Below as some of the pictures from that project, which she also raised money for us to implement at the camp. We our project, which covers the total area of 100 square meters, we cultivate corn, squash, and beans together at specific intervals with the corn first, followed by the climbing beans, and lastly the squash. Also, to make the project really interesting, students of my agriculture science class at a local high school at the camp were encourage to do community service at the farm to participate in on-farm demonstrations, weed removal and use as green manure and mulch, getting familiar with the drip irrigation technology, and also harvesting, which turns out to be their favorite part of the agriculture class. We usually encourage students to harvest any crop that they think are needed to their homes after on-farm work. This approach enabled me to always have at least a group of 4-6 students weekly to help with farm work.

Also, apart from the three sisters garden and drip irrigation project, we also had a small-scale animal farming project in place. Non of the animals raised where for commercial purposes, but rather for consumption by community members and were also an opportunity to educate the little children who for example have not seeing a rabbit and have one (as pet), which is not a common practice though. Most animals raised to my belief and experience in most of Africa are for consumption and this applies to animals like rabbits, groundhogs, guinea pigs and different forms of fowls and birds. However, others do keep some of these animals as pets-especially rabbits and those are usually the well-off folks. 
Below are some photos about our small-scale, organic, and environmentally resourceful animal husbandry at the camp.

 Grasscutter (groundhogs) Small-scale production.

Couple having dinner on fresh cut grasses, cassava, and sweet potatoes all grown on our farm. The body composition of female grasscutters/gound hogs are usually bigger than males.

Personal observation shows that males wait while females eat first and then he can. Interesting!

She gives me that look!

Concern about animals safety? Off-course, after from the sleeping quarters, which is 2m x 2m (4m square), we also developed an outside hanging out area where they can move around with enough space (4m x 2m). We usually put them in this space before cleaning their bedrooms and applying delta to kill gems or microbes. We usually let them in about enough air circulated the cleaned space.

Well, if you think they are getting away.....think for a second, because they are not. We got them when they were both less than a month old and each weighted less a lbs. Now, when this picture was taken, the female (front in picture) weighted 10 lbs and just 6 months old and the male (behind usually) weighted albs at the same age. Well, so they were not escaping. So, at this time they had lived in this area for about six months and knew me and everyone else, except for thieves. So, we usually let them totally out of the cage structure to walk in the yard, when i am around to protect them. One one point, the female went in my office, which was actually next door to theirs. I guess she wanted to check things out probably to negotiate for a bigger room because she was pregnant.....(smile:)).

We also raised rabbits and we four new bunnies in our farm family. This is when they were just 2 days old.

The parent of those above.


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