Waterpans shield Naivasha farmers from depressed rains

Naivasha farmers are courting water pans to harvest water ensuring they have year round supply at a time when vagaries of weather have disrupted planting and harvesting seasons, taking a toll on yield and fanning the hunger cycle in Kenya.

Kenya is one of the countries in the African continent identified by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to be a water scarce country, as its renewable freshwater sources supply 647 cubic meters of water per capita per annum. But for farmers in Naivasha water reservoir that stores the flood water collected during the short and long rain seasons have assured them of guaranteed water supply throughout the year. "With water you are not limited to the time, and you can plant whatever crop you want to grow," said Florence Muthoni, who owns a waterpan in the semi-arid area of Maela.

Construction of the waterpan in 2011 has enabled her manage a greenhouse, which raises her income that she uses to feed her family and educate her children. "I grow watermelons in the greenhouse but this could not be possible without the waterpan because this area is usually dry. The water that is available is only bought from the boreholes," Muthoni said. She grows the watermelons in the green house six times a year, with an average profit of 1,264 dollars in each season. "This is enough to pay school fees for my two children in college and afford adequate balanced food for them," she said.

"Before, it was tough, in the dry season like January, you could not get even vegetables in the farm. We could sleep hungry." Another farmer, Zainabu Malicha, is also benefitting from the establishment of the water storage system, which she said has greatly boosted her agribusiness activities. Malicha, a mother of five children, has two greenhouses where she grows tomatoes that she supplies to wholesale traders. "Tomatoes require a lot of water, which would be extremely expensive for me if I got a supply from the boreholes," she said.

Although she started with one greenhouse, the good returns she made from the sale of highly marketable tomatoes enabled her put up a second greenhouse, thus increasing her total earnings. "I have realized that having a waterpan in your homestead is the best way to remain productive throughout the year," she said. The two are among the 286 farmers in the region benefitting from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) program of improving the livelihoods of households living in the dry areas. According to Muthoni, the organization has established 50 waterpans for the farmers at a cost of more than Sh20million.

The farmers share the water to irrigate their pieces of land under vegetables, potatoes, maize and beans among other crops. A waterpan, as explained by Alfred Mugalo, a technician in the water storage system, can be established in an area where water can easily be diverted. "It can be near the river or at the edge of a slope as long the water can easily be directed to the waterpan," said Mugalo. To put up the water reservoir, Mugalo said, mainly requires a dam liner sold at Sh45 a square meter. "A farmer digs the hole with the guidance of a specialist, then a technician uses a welding machine to laid down the dam liner to cover the hole," he explained.

Putting more land under irrigation to promote food production in the East African nation is an objective under the Economic Stimulus Program that the government aims to achieve through the involvement of all stakeholders including the non-state actors.

Kenya has a total land area of 58.26 million hectares, out of which only 11.65 million hectares receive medium to high rainfall, according to the National Irrigation Board. Out of the 11.65 million hectares, only 7 million hectares is used for agricultural production, an indication of less land usage for production of enough food to feed a growing population estimated to hit 70 million in 2030. "Helping communities embrace techniques that they can use to access a reliable source of food is very important in eliminating hunger among the households," said Daniel Koros, the WWF Naivasha Project Technical Officer.

He said households in water stressed regions face hunger and live in poverty due to lack of surplus food for sale to sustain their families. "It is therefore necessary that farmers like those in Naivasha have waterpans where huge amounts of water can be stored for use in the farms for as many as four months," he noted.

However, construction of a waterpans is expensive, which many of the small-scale farmers would not afford without financial assistance from the micro-finance institutions, state organizations or the nongovernmental organizations. "It is costly to construct a waterpan considering the cost of the dam liner which goes for more than Sh45 a square meter. It requires adequate funding which farmers can get from various sources including the government agencies and banks," said Koros.