Before 54-year-old Samuel Maingi, a farmer from Mwala in Eastern Kenya, began rain water harvesting, he used to get one harvest of horticultural crops per year.
Now, he gets three or more consistent harvests a year, and earns up to five times what he used to. For 30 years from 1974, Maingi relied on rains to grow his crops, which meant he could only farm from October to December and from March to May, and even then he would sometimes lose his crops to poor rains.
After learning about rain water harvesting from Ministry Of Agriculture technicians he invested around Sh113,000 to dig up a pond that would hold 150,000 litres, line it with polythene, and create furrows for trapping road water run-off and rainfall. It took him a month to build the pond.
As soon as he had a consistent water supply, Maingi diversified his crops from normal staples like maize and legumes to include watermelons, tomatoes, egg plants and onions.
With the water pond and a manual water pump he was also able to extend growing of tomatoes from an acre to up to 3 acres. “Initially, it was tedious watering each tomato with watering cans,” he said. But the water pump made watering easier and he also introduced drip irrigation.
Before he began water harvesting, his harvests came when agricultural production was at its peak, and prices lowest, meaning he would get around Sh12,000 per harvest. Now, with multiple harvests for some of his crops and near continuous harvesting of others, he calculates he earns around Sh40,000 per harvest from his horticulture alone.
Nonetheless, the water pond itself is reliant on the rains that fall, and if the rains fail badly, it can still leave him short. “Last year we had no rains,” he said.
For this reason, he’s now extending his water harvesting to capture more of what does arrive, with plans afoot to build a new pond to ensure he always has enough water for his 7 acres.
His initiatives have been part of a shift that has seen Mwala in Mutomo County emerging as a hub of rain water harvesting with steadily more residents storing runoff and rainwater in underground reservoirs. According to UNEP, this supplementary irrigation from water harvesting has increased crop yields in Mutomo by 20 per cent and even seen farmers diversifying into dairy farming, which was previously unheard of.
The enhanced water supplies are also seeing farmers diversifying crops. Before, farmers could earn $146 per hectare from maize only, but according to a UNEP report farmers earned $736 per hectare from farming many crops.
Besides selling his horticulture to local markets like Matii and Machakos, Maingi has built up a consistent clientele in Nairobi for his fruits, which now include citrus, mangoes and tomatoes. The success of his water harvesting has also made his farm a demonstration location for other farmers, with even a documentary recently shot there.
Organisations like World Vision are training 7 groups of 30 farmers each on Maingi’s farm, so that they can construct similar ponds. Across the board, rainwater harvesting has “increased my profits,” said Maingi.
Written by James Karuga for African Laughter
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