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| Last Updated:: 29/08/2023

Bamboo drip Irrigation















Meghalaya is well-known for having the highest rainfall in the world of about 11500 mm recorded annually. This makes Meghalaya the wettest places on earth. Though the local areas get a lot of rain during the monsoon season, a well-managed water system is a need during the dry season. Topography in these areas is hilly, with steep slopes due to which there are two challenges. First, water-retention capacity of the terrain is poor. Second, Bringing water from distant water sources to the fields is a big challenge for the farmers in the rural areas. Ground channelling is also impractical due to the harsh landscape. Confronted with such adverse conditions for irrigation, the traditional farmers of Meghalaya have come up with an innovative way that works.





Since olden times, traditional farmers of Meghalaya have been utilizing an indigenous method of bamboo drip irrigation system to water their plantation crops. It is an innovative irrigation system that taps streams and spring water sources using bamboo channels. This intricate design for irrigation has been perfected over 200 years of practice. It is so perfected that about 18-20 litres of water entering the bamboo pipe system per minute gets transported over several hundred metres and finally gets reduced to 20-80 drops per minute at the site of the plant.





The bamboo drip irrigation system is normally used to irrigate the betel leaf or black pepper crops planted in arecanut orchards or in mixed orchards. Bamboo pipes are used to divert perennial springs on the hilltops to the lower reaches by gravity. The channel sections, made of bamboo, divert and convey water to the plot site where it is distributed without leakage into branches, again made and laid out with different forms of bamboo pipes. Manipulating the intake pipe positions also controls the flow of water into the lateral pipes. Reduced channel sections and diversion units are used at the last stage of water application. The last channel section enables the water to be dropped near the roots of the plant.





Bamboos of varying diameters are used for laying the channels. About a third of the outer casing in length and internodes of bamboo pieces have to be removed while fabricating the system. Later, the bamboo channel is smoothened by using a dao, a type of local axe which is a round chisel fitted with a long handle. Other components are small pipes and channels of varying sizes used for diversion and distribution of water from the main channel. About four to five stages of distribution are involved from the point of the water diversion to the application point.















The system is found in the ‘war’ areas of Meghalaya but is more prevalent in the ‘war’ Jaintia hills than in the ‘war’ Khasi hills. This system is also widely prevalent in the Muktapur region bordering Bangladesh. The region has very steep slopes and a rocky terrain. Diverting water through ground channels is not possible. The land used for cultivation is owned by the clan, and is allocated for cultivation by the clan elders on payment of a one-time rent. The clan elders have the prerogative to decide who should get what and how much land. Once the rent has been paid and the land taken on lease for cultivation, the lease period operates as long as the plants last. In case of betel leaf cultivation, the lease can last for a very long time since the plants are not lopped off after one harvest. But once the plants die, for whatever reason, the land reverts back to the clan, and can only be leased out again after paying new rent.





The water for betel leaf plants is diverted from streams by temporary diversions into very intricate bamboo canal systems. Betel leaf is planted in March before the monsoon. It is only during winter that irrigation water is required, and the bamboo pipe system is used. Hence, these bamboo systems are made ready before the onset of the winter, and during the monsoon no water is diverted into them.




Maintenance of the pipes and supports is done by the farmers themselves. A cooperative has been formed, and each farmer provides his skill and labour to maintain the system. Repair work is undertaken as and when required. Distribution of water is carried out by diverting water from one field to another at fixed timings.













To divert the water, a short bamboo with a hole at the bottom is placed across the main lines. This blocks the main water pipe and diverts the water.





Why do farmers in Meghalaya prefer using Bamboo?





In a time when global warming, depletion of resources and deforestation threatens the balance of the delicate natural world and its diverse ecosystems, bamboo is a viable solution and resource that is both remarkably useful and eco-friendly. It is a sustainable renewable resource.





Bamboo is one plant that stands above the rest in terms of usefulness and speed of growth. Bamboo forests grow naturally and stretch across large expanses throughout Meghalaya. Here are 4 reasons why traditional farmers of Meghalaya use bamboo for drip irrigation:




  • Bamboo is a miracle plant used by locals as a sturdy building material for drip irrigation. It has the same strength as steel, but lighter in weight and cheaper.
  • It grows rapidly – bamboo plant can grow a few feet a day and reach maturity within two years. Even after the harvesting season, it self-propagates and new bamboo forest can quickly spring up preventing deforestation and soil erosion. It is thus easily available for farmers.
  • Unlike other plants, bamboo is naturally antibacterial and does not need harmful pesticides and fertilizers to grow. It also produces about 35% oxygen which keeps the air clean.
  • Bamboos are easily repairable and are bio-degradable substance. It can naturally turn into humus which can keep the soil fertile.






Traditional farmers are aware of the green and sustainable use of bamboo. It is a renewable resource that re-grows almost as quickly as it can be consumed and is thus a reliable resource for farmers for centuries to come.





Bamboo supplies have recently come under threat from a surge in rodent populations, gregarious flowering, disease, and large-scale extraction.  Nonetheless, large-scale conservation and protection plans are underway in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Mizoram, Tripura, and Sikkim, which together contain over 50% of India’s bamboo supply (within 226,000 square kilometers of land.)





The Jaintia, Khasi, and Garo hill tribes have long entrusted the use of bamboo drip irrigation as a means to fulfilling domestic, agricultural, and customary needs.  Its function remains unspoiled so as the rains continue to fall and the bamboo continues to grow.