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Industrial water run-off can sustainably boost crop production

An irrigation project in Ethiopia uses industrial runoff from a brewery to nourish wheat crops, diverting it from a nearby river and protecting the health of local residents.

Photo credit: Julie Mollins
Irrigation reservoir at the Kulumsa research station in Ethiopia. CIMMYT/Julie Mollins

KULUMSA, Ethiopia (CIMMYT) — An irrigation reservoir at the Kulumsa Agricultural Research Center in Ethiopia’s highlands captures water from a nearby beer distillery about 168 km (105 miles) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa.

Before the irrigation project was constructed, the industrial runoff from the brewery poured into the nearby river and affected the health of local residents.

Now it nourishes crops growing in neighboring fields during the dry season or in periods of drought. It can store up to 38,195 m3 of water.

“The irrigation project has been a key investment – it’s very instrumental for accelerating seed multiplication of improved high-yielding rust resistant varieties for local wheat projects,” said Bekele Abeyo, a CIMMYT senior scientist and wheat breeder.

“It allows us to advance wheat germplasm and seed multiplication of elite lines twice a year, which we couldn’t do previously.”

This cuts the time by half from the currently required eight to 10 years to four to five years for the development and release of new varieties through conventional breeding.

An additional pond with the capacity to capture 27,069 m3 of natural water from the river, generates the capacity to irrigate more than 30 hectares of land during the off season.

The project resulted from the joint investment of the East Africa Agricultural Productivity Program, the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat Project and CIMMYT.

The construction of the ponds began in April 2012. Sprinkler irrigation was completed in 2014 and management of the project was handed over to the Kulumsa Research Center.