Water in the Desert

Water in the Desert

Canadian Zimmatic Dealer Brings Center Pivot Irrigation to the People of Afghanistan

Most pivot dealers have, at one point or another, found themselves installing irrigation systems under adverse conditions – in rain, on hot summer days or while dodging strong winds. But Canadian Zimmatic dealer Boyd Derdall’s recent installation experience takes the cake, and, if given the opportunity, he’d do it all over again.

It all began when the Canadian government asked Derdall, president and founder of Rain Maker Irrigation Development in Outlook, Saskatchewan, to contribute his services to a major international project. The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was sponsoring the $50-million restoration of an irrigation system near Kandahar City, Afghanistan.

The project called for the installation of two Zimmatic pivots on what was once a flood-irrigated rice field turned al-Qaida training site, in order to grow wheat and corn for the people of Afghanistan.

“The goal was to help the Afghans in the nearby city grow their own food and increase their protein consumption, which will in turn benefit North American agriculture,” Derdall says.

Derdall, who has designed and installed pivots in Libya and Egypt, accepted the offer immediately, but not without some reservations.

Working in a War Zone

“My co-workers and I have experience working in the Middle East, but we’ve never worked in a war zone before,” he says. “It was a daunting challenge, but one I knew we could handle.”

Derdall arrived at Kandahar Air Field (KAF) on November 18, 2010, along with employees Trevor Unruh, Wayne Martinson and John Boot, all who volunteered to go. They were met with searing temperatures and given flak jackets and helmets to wear during their long days in the field.

The group stayed at KAF, alongside troops from Canada and the United States. They were shuttled back and forth to the field during the 11-day installation process. Despite the benevolent nature of the project, not everyone in the area had good intentions, so tight security and expert strategy were a must.

“We took different routes to the field every day, and our drivers would vary the time when they came and left the field. The key was to avoid following a routine,” says Derdall. “We also had armored vehicles driving alongside of us and bodyguards with us at all times.”

Pivots and Landmines

Another concern was the presence of landmines in and around the field.

“The fields were demined before our arrival, but the possibility of additional mines kept us close to KAF and the field. We didn’t want to stray too far from the worksite.”

Over the course of their time in Kandahar, Derdall’s team installed two Zimmatic pivots, each with two towers. The pivots are equipped with FieldVision, Nelson rotators and drop nozzle packages, and each one irrigates about 15 acres (6 ha) of land. Water comes from a canal that was built in 1962 and revamped as part of the CIDA’s initiative.

“Installation went smoothly – we had all the parts and equipment we needed,” says Derdall. “Once everything was in place, we spent time training the local Afghans how to run the irrigation system, including starting, stopping, priming and pressurizing the system.”

The local Afghan farmers and farm managers, accustomed to flood irrigation and unfamiliar with center pivots, were wary of the new system at first, but their apprehension didn’t last long.

“At the start of installation, the local people were very serious. But after the pivots started running, they were all smiles and actually danced in the field,” Derdall says. “It was a great sight to see and realize that we were making a difference in the lives of the Afghan people.”

The Rain Maker team left Afghanistan 11 days later, with the pivots up, running and ready to irrigate the soon-to-be wheat and corn fields. The field is guarded 24/7 to ensure its safety and success. And Derdall is back home in Saskatchewan, satisfied with a job well done and looking forward to his next adventure.

“Some people may call us crazy for going into a war zone to set up pivots, but I would definitely do it again,” he says. “It was an amazing experience, and it was worth braving the harsh conditions to set the local people up with a more efficient irrigation system that will serve them for years to come.”