Irrigation systems have been an essential tool used by Africans in agriculture due to the continent’s unreliable rainfall and constant droughts. It is widely believed that the earliest use of irrigation systems took place along the banks of the Nile River in Ancient Egypt.
According to scholars, the Nile River used to flood during the summer and leaves behind a significant amount of silt when the water recedes in early fall. This led for Egyptians to create a system known as basic irrigation which primarily involves the classification of land along the river into massive basins with walls. In short, the water filled the basins during the flood.
Subsequently, this enabled the farmers to grow their crops in the wet soil that was left behind. It is, however, important to take into account that farmers who made use of basin irrigation was only limited to plant one crop a year on their fields since it could not control the size of the flood.
Other than Egypt, irrigation systems were also a popular commodity in Mali as it was utilized to support crops in the Niger River. In fact, farmers in the region employed a technique called flood cropping wherein they choose to plant rice close to the river in July and August. As the river floods in the fall, the water covers the land and helps the rice to grow.
Adjacently, the farmers harvest the rice when the water recedes between December and February. Similar to the Nile River, the extent of flood waters in the Niger River is often unpredictable which forces farmers to plant a wide variety of crops that can adapt to both dry and hot weather conditions. By means of this process, ancient African farmers are able to ensure that one of their crops can survive regardless of the size of the flood.
Even though flood cropping and basin irrigation helped farmers grow crops, both systems depended on river flooding which can differ from year to year. In order to overcome this problem, farmers managed to develop technology that enabled them to attract from rivers for irrigation and to hoard water for use during drought seasons.
Crops that are planted using the Gezira irrigation scheme include cotton, vegetables, wheat and sorghum.
The Gezira irrigation system is dubbed as the biggest irrigation scheme in the world with more than 100,000 farmers.
Irrigation was believed to have started along the banks of the Nile River.
It enabled Egyptians to control the flow of water in the Nile Delta and uplift the space of land under irrigation.