Kitui farmers delves to diversify food production with sand dams

A novel water harvesting method in Kitui County has changed the fortunes of over 70,000 farmers, leading to food diversification and job creations in an area traditionally at the mercy of the rain gods. Through construction of over 800 sand dams, residents are now irrigating their farms and have now moved to growing fast maturing crops like Kales, citrus fruits, onions and cabbages with a ready market.

The initiative, in collaboration with a not for government organization, Sahalian Solutions Foundation (SASOL), involves the residents creating barriers in a drainage system that holds water like a river or stream. When it rains water is trapped in the sand and preserved for the dry spells. The process of water harvesting is driven and managed collectively by the community.

The community picks the sites for sand dam development in accordance to user suitability and their knowledge of the most ideal sites for development. ”Sand dams are a low level technology suitable for alleviating water scarcity in Kitui. They have several positive factors including making use of the largest reservoir, underground storage,”said David Kithuku one of the officers involved in the water harvesting project. According to Kithuku, there is abundance of water in Kitui during the short rainy season when water from the oceans is deposited in the land.

Most of this water is usually lost through runoff back to the oceans. “This is the water that we seek to tap and it has been a successful venture,”he further added. The success is further elaborated by Wycliffe Muema, a 40 year old retrenched civil servant who decided to engage in farming to earn a livelihood.

Focusing primarily on maize and beans farming, he was among those who were constantly on government relief aid never mind that his farm was near the famous Tana River. Many rainy seasons never met their expectations as the rains never came or were minimal. Muema with other Kitui farmers planted in time as advised by the agricultural extension officers but the rains disappeared after few weeks putting the community in utter despair. “And we gave up farming.

Nothing worked, until the sand dams idea, which had long existed in our area but we always ignored it, was sold to us last year,”Muema recalled. Leading other farmers in active adoption of the low water harvesting technology, Muema has never regretted the decision.

When the rains came calling in March last year, together with other farmers they got to harvesting the abundant water. And when the dry spell hit in August, it never interrupted their farming. They had already switched to farming of fast maturing crops like the fresh produce with the advice of local extension officers. Compared to maize that takes over four to five months to mature and sometimes dragging to six, depending on the availability of rainfall, the fresh produce takes three months at most, with the returns per acreage equally doubling. “I have a quarter acre of land.

When I planted maize after waiting for 6 months I could only afford at most 20kgs. The same land when I started planting onions and kales I harvest over 15 kilos of onions and 20kgs of kales in just three months. This gives me an income of over Sh50,000.

I was getting a maximum of Sh20,000 with maize after waiting for six months,”said Martha Mwende another farmer involved in sand dam project. The project with an eye to getting 150,000 farmers by year end has reinforced government belief and call to farmers that food security can only by achieved by small ventures being adopted by farmers which include water harvesting.

Small scale irrigation is the key to a near tripling of sub-Saharan Africa's yields, according to a new study that has uncovered a revolution in the ways in which smallholders are driving low-cost farm and community water management.

A study recently released by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) revealed that small scale irrigation and water harvesting techniques were responsible for a near tripling of sub-Saharan Africa's yields, uncovering a revolution in the ways in which smallholders like Muema and Mwende were driving low-cost farm and community water management.