Drip irrigation is enjoying brisk uptake among smallholder farmers keen on economizing water use especially in arid and semi-arid regions, with the technology delivering triple yields compared to the other irrigation methods thanks to its even distribution of water to all crops. The method uses drip kits which come in different sizes depending on the crop's needs. A set of drip kit entails a water tank preferably plastic as it is easy to manouver with during plumbing, a ball valve, filter, supply pipe to the farm and connectors which have openings known as emitters for water outlet around the root of the plant.
The tank, which the primary source of water, is raised at least a meter high in order to give the water gravitational pressure and pump it down the supply pipes. When the valve is opened, the water flows through to the filter in order to only allow pure water to flow to the root of the plant. The supply pipes and connectors are all poly ethylene and are ultra-violet treated to protect them from the impacts of hot sun. John Mwangi an expert from KARI notes that when looked after well, a drip kit can last for over 7 years.
The technology was first developed in the USA and Israel for growing crops in dry climates where water is limited. Traditionally In Kenya, the technology has been the preserve of large scale commercial farmers especially from the flower sector but KARI started scaling it down to small scale drip in 1996. Since then the adoption has been widespread especially by farmers in arid and semi-arid areas. According to a European Irrigation association report on the technology, drip irrigation use among smallholder farmers increases yields and economic gains by greater proportion compared to conventional methods. The report noted that on the same size of land where a farmer stands to get about 2000kgs of tomatoes when conventional methods of irrigation are usedhe can get over 7000kgs using drip kit technology
The economic use of water by the drip kits has been its selling point compared to other methods of irrigation like sprinkler. “One stand to save a lot of water for instance compared to sprinkler where water is sprinkled all over the land. With drip, the emitters ensure that water drips only at the root of the plant allowing one to use just 1.5litres of water with drip compared to the 10litres when using sprinkler on a plant,” explained Mwangi.
Martin Turere an expert working with Amiran Kenya explained that the technology has gained popularity among small holder farmers in the country. “We receive over 10 orders for the product and in fact currently we have even run out of the small sized kit for an eighth of an acre though the supply will arrive shortly,” noted Martin. He also attributed the increased demand of the technology among local farmers to the benefits and efficiency it has. “Many farmers cannot afford a fully equipped greenhouse technology which costs over Shs200,000 compared to the drip kit for open field farming which is about Shs22,000 and yet the benefits are almost similar,” he explained.
In addition, the method also reduces the cost of labour to a farmer. Mary Githini a farmer who has adopted the technology for over 8 years noted, “I no longer need a lot of workers to help me irrigate my tomato plantation as I used to when using watering cans. The use of drip kit lessens work when it comes to weeding especially during the sunny season as I only uproot weeds around the plant roots since that is the point where water drips”
Noah Ngotiek a vegetable farmer in Narok concurs, “Drip irrigation is a good technology that is leading us to food security because we continue farming even during drought and I can manage to triple my yields especially during drought time where other farmers cant. And with the shortage the demand goes higher meaning more money for me,”said Ngotiek.
The technology also curbs the spread of diseases from. Mwangi also noted that there is improved yield when using drip because all plants get same amount of water and therefore their growth is uniform and they end producing better yields.
A drum kit, a smaller size of this technology retails in the market at a price between Sh9000-14000 depending on the place and components one needs as there are other people who can devise the use of locally available tanks. This kit with a 200litres tank can supply an eighth of an acre with about 500 plants. The beauty about the technology is that one may choose the kit size depending on the size of the land.
However, accoding to Mwangi, extra caution must be observed especially during weeding in order not to cut the connectors which supply water to the plant roots and are laid on the ground next to the plant. “I sometimes have to replace the cut connectors since some of my workers are not careful while weeding although this is negligible,” noted Mrs Githinji. She also noted that some rodents also damage the connectors. KARI acknowledges this setback and Mwangi explains that the research body is in search of viable solutions to avert such problems.
Despite the price, demand for the kit especially during the dry spells has been on an upward trajectory. Mwangi alludes to this noting that when KARI used to sell the kits to the farmers, they used to have about 10 clients per day. The kits are readily available in various leading farm input shops in the country notably Amiran Kenya, Twiga Chemicals Industries, Solar World East Africa, Arid Land Information Network (ALIN) among others.
For more information on where to get drip kits contact the following organizations
Salin - 0728606916
Twiga Chemicals- 0203942000