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4.2 Small-scale clay pot and porous capsule irrigation

4.2 Small-scale clay pot and porous capsule irrigation


This technology consists of using clay pots and porous capsules to improve
irrigation practices by increasing storage and improving the distribution of water in
the soil. It is not new; it was used by the Romans for many centuries. This ancient
irrigation system has been modernized and reapplied in water-scarce areas.
Technical Description
This low-volume irrigation technology is based on storing and distributing water to
the soil, using clay pots and porous capsules interconnected by plastic piping. A
constant-level reservoir is used to maintain a steady hydrostatic pressure. Clay
pots are open at the top and are usually fired in home furnaces after being
fabricated from locally obtained clay or clay mixed with sand. The pots, usually
conical in shape and of 10 to 121 capacity, are partially buried in the soil with only
the top extending above ground. Distribution is by plastic (PVC) piping to ensure a
fairly uniform permeability and porosity. Hydrostatic pressure is regulated by
maintaining a constant level in the storage reservoir, as shown in Figure 37.
A similar system, tested in Mexico and Brazil, uses smaller, closed containers, or
porous capsules, completely buried in the soil. These containers distribute the
water either by suction and capillary action within the soil, or by external pressure
provided by a constant-level reservoir (as in the previous system). Each capsule
normally has two openings to permit connection of the plastic (PVC) piping which
interconnects the capsules. The capacity of these capsules ranges between 7 and
15 1, and the storage tanks supplying the system are elevated 1 or 2 m above the
soil surface. The capsules are buried in a line 2 meters apart, at least 10 cm under
the top layer of the soil.
The number of pots or capsules used is a function of the area of cultivation, soil
conditions, climate, and pot size. Up to 800 pots/ha were installed in Brazil; the
system there is shown in Figure 38.
Extent of Use
This technology is being used for small-scale agricultural irrigation in the arid and
semi-arid regions of Argentina, Brazil (see case study in Part C, Chapter 5),
Ecuador, Bolivia, and Mexico. It has also been used in tropical countries such as
Guatemala, Panama, and the Dominican Republic during drought periods.
Operation and Maintenance
The operation is very simple, requiring only the opening of valves to replace the
water used from the pots and capsules. However, the installation of the system
does require a degree of care since the pots and capsules are made of clay and
can be easily broken; also, the gradients must be correct if gravity flows are
desired. It is also important to maintain the hydrostatic pressure. If this pressure
cannot be maintained, the connections between pots must be checked for possible
leaks and/or breakages. Replacement of the pots or capsules is necessary every 3
to 5 years. A soil investigation before the installation is advisable.
Level of Involvement
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4.2 Small-scale clay pot and porous capsule irrigation

The participation of the community is essential in the implementation of this


technology. Further, the support of the government and research institutions is also
desirable. In Brazil, the government of the state of Pernambuco built a factory to
manufacture porous capsules and developed small areas of bean cultivation for the
application of the technology. In Ecuador and Bolivia, universities and government
agricultural institutions are testing it.
Figure 37: Schematic Representation of a Clay Pot Irrigation System.

Source: Aderaldo Silva De Souza, et al. Irrigacin par Potes de Barro:


Descripcin del Mtodo y Pruebas Preliminares, Petrolina, PE, Brasil,
1982, (EMBRAPA-CPATSA Boletn de Investigacin No. 10).
Figure 38: Schematic of a Porous Capsule Irrigation System.

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4.2 Small-scale clay pot and porous capsule irrigation

Source: Aderaldo Silva De Souza, et al. Irrigacin par Potes de Barro:


Descripcin del Mtodo y Pruebas Preliminares, Petrolina, PE, Brasil,
1982, (EMBRAPA-CPATSA Boletn de Investigacin No. 10).
Costs
Costs vary according to the materials and the type of system used. In Brazil, the
reported cost was $ 1 300/ha cultivated using clay pots, and $1 800/ha cultivated
using porous capsules. A clay pot system in the Dominican Republic reported an
annual cost of $ 1 280. Smaller experimental systems in Bolivia and Panama were
built for less than $100.
Effectiveness of the Technology
The technology has been shown to improve the stability of the soils. It has allowed
agricultural development in areas where climatic conditions and the quality of the
soils have prevented the use of conventional irrigation methods. Tests performed in
Panama, using fruit trees, show significant improvements in the size of the stem
and the number of fruits per plant; a yield of six fruits per plant was achieved with
this system versus two with conventional irrigation. In Bolivia, the use of this
technology in the cultivation of potatoes resulted in a yield of 42 000 kg/ha versus
18 000 kg/ha using traditional irrigation methods.
Suitability
This technology is suitable for arid and semi-arid regions, and for small-scale
agricultural projects in areas affected by periodic drought. Countries like Bolivia,
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4.2 Small-scale clay pot and porous capsule irrigation

Brazil, Peru, Argentina, and Chile can definitely benefit from the use of this
technology in rural areas.
Advantages
This is a low-cost technology.
Agricultural production is higher with this technology than with other
irrigation technologies.
Agriculture can be undertaken at lower air temperatures.
Infiltration losses are reduced.
Weeds can be better controlled, by managing their access to water.
This system does not cause environmental impacts.
This technology is very useful in family gardens and in horticulture.
Water management using this technology allows agricultural
development in arid lands and salty soils.
Vandalism is minimized since most of the equipment is under the soil
surface.
It is easy to operate and maintain.
It can reduce fertilizer use, by allowing application to defined,
cultivated areas.
Use of this technology can minimize soil erosion.
Disadvantages
The technology is difficult to use in rocky soils.
Broken pots or capsules can disrupt the irrigation operation and
reduce productivity. Some plants with extended root systems are
difficult to cultivate using this technology.
In some areas, it may be difficult to purchase or manufacture the clay
pots and/or capsules.
It is only applicable to small-scale agriculture.
Cultural Acceptability
This technology is gaming acceptance among agricultural communities in arid
areas. It is well developed as a technology for use in household gardening.
Further Development of the Technology
Improvements in the construction of the porous capsules are desirable, perhaps
using different materials which have acceptable levels of porosity but are more
robust and can avoid breakages. It is also desirable to develop systems using
porous capsules or clay pots, that can be used in large-scale or commercial
agricultural operations. Educational and informational programming on the benefits
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of the technology, and training in the manufacture of porous capsules, and pots are
required.
Information Sources
Contacts
Elsa L. Flores, Centro de Investigaciones Hidrulicas e Hidrotcnicas, Universidad
Tecnolgica de Panam, Apartado 6-2894, El Dorado, Panam, Repblica de
Panam. Tel. (507)220-3666. Fax (507)220-3666. E-mail:
eflores@koeps.utp.ac.pa.
Niclas C. Ciancaglini, INCYTH-CRA, Casilla de Correo 9,5500 Mendoza,
Argentina. Tel. (54-61)28-6998. Fax (54-61)28-8250.
Daro Alvarado, Profesor, Facultad de Ciencias Agropecuarias, Universidad de
Cuenca, Cuenca, Ecuador. Tel. (593-7)831-688. Fax (593-7)832-183.
Freddy Camacho Villegas, Instituto de Hidrulica e Hidrologa (UMSA), Casilla
Postal 699, La Paz, Bolivia. Tel. (591-2)79-5724. Fax (591-2)79-2622.
Milagros Martnez Esquea, Instituto Nacional de Recursos Hidrulicos,
Programa de Manejo de Agua a Nivel de Fincas, Centro de los Heroes, Apt. 1407,
Santo Domingo, Repblica Dominicana. Tel. (809)533-5804. Fax (809)532-5884.
Everaldo Rocha Porto, Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria
(EMBRAPA), Centro de Pesquisa Agropecuaria do Trpico Semi-rido (CPATSA),
BR-428 km 152, Zona Rural, Caixa Postal 23,56300-000 Petrolina, Pernambuco,
Brasil. Tel. (55-81)862-1711. Fax (55-81)862-1744, E-mail:
erporto@cpatsa.embrapa.br.
Aderaldo de Souza Silva, Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria
(EMBRAPA), Centro Nacional de Pesquisa de Monitoramento e Avaliao do
Impacto Ambiental (CNPMA), Rodovia SP-340 km 127.5, Tanquinho Velho, Caixa
Postal 69,13820-000 Jaguariuna, So Paulo, Brasil. Tel. (55-198)67-5633. Fax (55198)67-5225. Telex (55-19)2655.
Luiza Teixeira de Lima Brito, Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuria
(EMBRAPA), Centro de Pesquisa Agropecuaria do Trpico Semi-Arido (CPATSA),
BR-428 km 152, Zona Rural, Caixa Postal 23, 56300-000 Petrolina, PE, Brasil. Tel.
(55-81)862-1711. Fax (55-81) 862-1744. E-mail: luizatlb@cpatsa.embrapa.br.
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