The over 40 springs emanating from Mount Kilimanjaro has given farmers in the semi arid Loitoktok area a lifeline, as the springs feed their livestock while giving them an alternative in commercial vegetable farming which is insulating them against hunger due to over reliance on livestock.
This water also determines the value of the land in the region with farms that have springs being sold 10 times expensive compared to the rest as demand for horticulture farming soars. Mt Kilimanjaro is in Tanzania but Kenyan farmers in the border tap the water that flows into their side. “There are over 40 springs that emanate from the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro from Loitoktok area alone and several others in the neighbouring areas like Taveta. These Springs through the gravitational force, their water is pumped towards our area which in turn we trap and have decided to make efficient use of it,” noted Joseph Suyanka a farmer from the area growing tomatoes, french beans, and onions.
Each spring is controlled by a team led by the Chairman, Secretary and a treasurer. The three principals ensure that the water is not wasted and that the number of people to benefit from the spring realizes this goal without any wrangles.
To ensure organized and efficient use of the spring water for farming, each spring has an outlined structure in form of a timetable that stipulates each and every member’s turn to use it. Suyanka who is also the secretary for one of the springs in the area explained, “We are using furrow irrigation method and each farmer in the group has a duty to make a main channel to his land to tap from the spring. Due to the fact that the method wastes about 50 percent of water, about half of the land of over 60 acres that is endowed with a single spring can only be irrigated by the farmers,” Suyanka added that each farmer is given about 4 hours to channel and use the spring water in a span of 14 days.
The farmers have divided their land into smaller pieces measuring about five by two metres or 5 by one metre depending on the type of vegetable grown. The small pieces of land are locally known as majeruba a name coined from their neighbouring Tanzania friends meaning accuracy. Mike Suyianga a tomato farmer in the area affirmed to this fact, “The furrow method we have embraced requires skills and wit because we are taming water to turn arid and semi-arid areas into greenbelts.”
The main channel that enters a farm is further divided into sub-channels that directly feed each Jeruba at a time with the farmer taking the lead in directing water course by opening and closing each sub-channel for the Jeruba. Due to the pressure on the little available water, irrigation is done by the farmers day and night in order to satisfy the members. “Our irrigation time table runs day and night throughout the year because of the need to satisfy the seemingly hungry farms with the much needed water to the crops,” added Suyianga.
The four hours in a period of 14 days that each farmer is allocated can only serve an area of about one acre and to counter this challenge, farmers with bigger chunks of land like Suyianga and Suyianka have devised other modes. “We have an arrangement where one can buy or lease the water from a member who they share a spring with since not all members may be in need of the same amount of water at a time. We buy water from other members at a cost of about Sh200,” noted Suyanka.
He also explained that when members agree on the arrangement, they inform the leaders and the secretary will then supervise the diversion of the water from the seller’s main channel to the buyer’s main channel. “This method of mutual cooperation has enabled us even cultivate over 5 acres of land,” he added
The benefits of the springs in agriculture are evident in the rising number of pastoralists in the area now going into vegetable farming and dispeling myths that owning large herds of cattle is the only way to become wealthy. “We are trying to diversify and some people are fully embracing farming as the only viable way of survival. The drought that hit the region two years ago left some families with nothing and I remember a family in our area which lost over 800 herds of cattle a factor that the head of the family could not comprehend and he ended up committing suicide,” explained Suyanka.
As a result of this initiative, the farmers are now growing a variety of vegetables ranging from cabbages, tomatoes, onions among others. Their efforts have also been lauded by the international companies like Finlays which has made inroads in the area contracting farmers to grow the much sought after French beans. The Sh50-70 price for a kilo of the beans has been the incentive that has drawn more pastoralists to crop cultivation.