Advanced rainwater harvesting to boost food production in Africa

marigatThere is a close relationship between sustainable food production and irrigation. A comparison between Kenya and Egypt, for instance, shows that despite being a desert country with a 90 per cent of the country relying on irrigation water for farming, Egypt still produces more food than Kenya.
FAO says that the northern Africa country has increased food production by 20 per cent in the last decade. The total cultivated area is 7.5 million acres.
A study by the International Food Policy Research Institute cites poor irrigation and weak water management systems and poor technology for Africa’s over reliance on rain water for agriculture.
The report says that only 6 per cent of the land in Africa is under irrigation compared to Asia which has 37 per cent.
Kenya has 5.4 million hectares of arable land, but only 17% of this land is suitable for rainfed farming.
Two-thirds of Africa’s roughly 13,400 hectares of irrigation-equipped land is concentrated in North Africa where water withdrawals as a share of total renewable water resources is 219 percent in northern Africa, but only one percent in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Players in the market 

And as the world ponders on how to put more land under irrigation, companies like Hortipro, an agro supply company in Kenya, are coming up with ingenious ways of tapping water for greenhouse farming.
Hortipro has designed green houses fitted with gutters to harvest rain water, which can then be stored in underground tanks for later usage.
But even with Hortipro’s novel approach to water harvesting, with the unpredictable weather patterns in Kenta, there is no telling how much water can be collected in a given period.
And that is where other water harvesting technologies come into play. Sunculture, a company based in Nairobi, sells a solar-powered drip irrigation system kit that combines a pumping system and a drip irrigation line.
Sunculture co-founder Samir Ibrahim promises that their system results in yield gains of up to 300% and water savings of up to 80%.

Going traditional
But the set up costs for Sunculture and Hortipro’s systems might be prohibitive for some Kenyan farmers. Hortipro’s 5mx10m greenhouse, which comes fitted a water collection and management system costs Sh105,000 ($1050), a standard drip Irrigation kit by Sunculture goes for Sh120,000 ($1200), while their solar pump system costs Sh219,000 ($2190).
However, those who cannot immediately afford such systems can gain from water conservation tricks that have been sufficiently used in other countries.
Egypt, for instance, has well structured water management systems that employ clever harvesting of rain water. According to rainwaterharvesting.org, Egypt has preserved indigenous rain water harvesting technologies including Tankas-underground tanks where circular holes are made in the ground and lined with fine polished lime to collect rainwater.
Another ancient rain water harvesting technology is Khadin. This is an ingenious construction designed to harvest surface runoff water for agriculture. Its main feature is a long (100-300 m) earthen embankment built across the lower hill slopes lying below gravelly uplands. Sluices and spillways allow excess water to drain off.
The Khadin system is based on the principle of harvesting rainwater on farmland and subsequent use of this water-saturated land for crop production.
Such methods have been used to supplement latest rainwater technologies to ensure that the desert country has enough water for irrigation.
By implementing such simple, yet innovative ideas, Kenya can put more land under cultivation, ultimately producing enough food to feed her people, and probably the rest of the continent.

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Farmers interested in Hortipro greenhouses can find them at Road A in Industrial Area, Nairobi, or call them on +254 (20) 2393590.
Sunculture can be contacted through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +254 (0) 700 327 002.