Smallholder irrigation plants seeds of hope in Kenya

As water resources become increasingly scarce and arable land dwindles thanks to competition from real estate and hunt for mineral resources, food security is bearing the brunt, with studies showing that food production has nosedived even as population burgeons.

The matter has been exacerbated by intermittent rainfall that has been attributed to vagaries of weather with smallholder farmers bearing the brunt of the weather change. This has put the lives of millions in the line. According to the Ministry of Agriculture 90 percent of all food consumed in Kenya is produced by smallholder farmers. And therein lies the problem. Low yields by the smallholders who account for about 70 percent of Kenyan farmers has sent food prices on the north creating a food disaster in waiting.

But some vanguard farmers and agricultural farmers are not sleeping on their laurels. In what has emerged as a blessing in disguise, the farmers are now adoption low cost irrigation schemes that are guaranteeing them year round supply of food. The advantage with this kind of irrigation has been economical use of water which has ensured that every drop of water goes to the intended crop therefore stemming wastage at a time when water is becoming a rare commodity. Researchers say good farming techniques have been missing in Kenya.

The ideal idea would be to produce more with less. The new form of irrigation is allowing farmers to use small pieces of land to produce bountiful harvests. The uptake of simple irrigation technologies by especially rural farmers in the country has helped avert the shortage of vegetables, fruits and livestock fodder for animals. One such method is drip irrigation. By embracing drip irrigation system, a farmer can achieve four to five times higher production, with maximum use of each drop of water, and without wasting of money and time.

Together with all necessary components, drip irrigation system contains specially designed and manufactured pipes to control water flow known as drip lines

“I inherited half an acre piece of land from my father. We were eight boys and land was scarce. I never harvested anything meaningful and only used my produce for my family. My light bulb moment came when I was introduced to a cheap irrigation kit. It has completely reformed my lifestyle. From my half acre piece of land I am now able to produce ten kilos of onions, five kilos of kales and five kilos of tomatoes which I sell,” said Meshack Mukiri a smallholder farmer in Kisii. Meshack makes Sh30,000 after every two as proceeds from his farm.

This has been a breath of fresh air to a man who lost his job after a company he was working in wound up. “ The irrigation kit ensures that even when it is so dry my crops are nourished because there is no water wastage. Every drop goes to the intended crop and I can regulate the amount of water my crops need,” added Meshack. He has been using the Kadogo drip kit, a miniature irrigation kit introduced to smallholder farmers by regional agro input powerhouse Elgon Kenya Limited.

Meshack is among farmers who have embraced the Kadogo drip kit due to its affordability, and convenience since it occupies little space. “This is one piece of agricultural technology that has changed my farming adventure. It is space, but its impact is massive. I always thought irrigation was the preserve of the rich and big farms. I cant believe I could have embraced irrigation and reap from it as a small scale farmer. This is no doubt the technology of the century,” said Ruth Onditi another smallholder farmer in Oyugis Kisumu.

The kadogo drip kit is user friendly, easier to maintain and returns investments within two to three flushes. The kit is available in standard sizes of a sixteenth of an acre and an eighth of an acre and cost between Sh18,700 and Sh25,000. This is six times lesser than conventional irrigation kits.

The kit is packed with one box to facilitate easy transportation, assembly and installation. It is also fully gravity powered, eliminating the possibility of extra power cost incurred from pumping water from its source to the farm.
The kit is meant to irrigate small plots of up 500 metres squared and works with all crops including vegetables, cereals, pulses and fruit trees whether in the open field or inside greenhouses. The drip pipes are spaced 50cm from each other allowing for complete water absorption by the plant.

Farmers who purchase the kit also get free demonstration of its use and agronomical support by agronomists from Elgon Kenya.
But Elgon Kenya well aware of the huge potential that irrigation holds in freeing the country from perennial hunger cycle has stepped up its resolve to make irrigation more affordable in Kenya. It is the first company through its very active irrigation department to import a sophisticated machine that manufactures drip lines locally.

This has meant subsidizing the cost of the drip lines which are otherwise high due to import costs that the importing companies pass over to consumers. “By purchasing this machine, we had realized a huge gap especially working and interacting with farmers. It was not just enough to tell farmers to adopt irrigation, the prohibitive costs were standing in the way of farmers. As friends of farmers we had to step in and lift their burden. We are proud how our low cost drip lines are enjoying a fanatical uptake and encourage more farmers to come on board,” said Premal Bhatt from Elgon Kenya’s irrigation department.
Elgon Kadogo drip kits are available at Elgon Kenya authorized distributors.