Kenya: Water Stressed Farmers Turn to Groundwater Dams to Survive

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Mary Mwendwa
March 29, 2015

Matwiku village horticulture farmers in Laikipia County of Kenya can now breathe a sigh of relief after a water harvesting technology came to their rescue.

Through constructing dams that save water for domestic and farm use, they are able to meet their water needs despite water challenges facing the county. Kamwenje and millima Tatu hills are the main catchments for the water supply in the village.

A Water Dam in Matwiku village of Laikipia County in Kenya
A Water Dam in Matwiku village of Laikipia County in Kenya

According to Peter Ngugi, chairperson, Matwiku Self Help Group, “Dam water harvesting technology has seen this area of Matwiku remain food secure. Laikipia is generally a dry place and therefore issues of water shortage are not any news. My group, we use drip irrigation that has seen us use less water in the farm where we grow onion, tomatoes , bananas and other horticulture crops.”

Ngugi also points out that some dams have run dry in recent times. He gives an example of a dam that has existed since colonial times, Kariaine Dam.

“Last year saw a revolution in this village, we recorded the highest number of farmers who ventured in horticulture farming, and many of them pump water using generators to their farms, and maybe this is what has contributed to the drying of this Dam. This was the only permanent water source here; we are mobilizing farmers and educating them on how to use water sustainably by using drip irrigation.”

The group has a one acre of land which was installed with a water pumping system using fuel that cost them around 360,000 thousand Kenyan shillings , donated to them by partners to run the horticulture project.

Ngugi appreciates the fact that as a group they have had to face some challenges which have proved a learning experience to them.

“We used to share a dam nearby and at some point we were kicked out because the original owners of the dam divided days for water supply and we were left hanging. This made us think and come to a conclusion to dig our own dam where we will have continuous water supply with no interference,” notes Ngugi.

A Farmer Irrigates his Crops in Matwiku village of Laikipia County in Kenya
A Farmer Irrigates his Crops in Matwiku village of Laikipia County in Kenya

During a farmers’ field day where over 100 farmers gathered to interact and learn from experts about farming, it emerged that there was need for more education on how farmers and their households can use the little water they have sustainably.

One by one each speaker called on proper water management to avoid wastage during this time of drought.

Celina Njeri, a resident at Makwitu village says that she has seen many dams dry in the last ten years of her stay.

“Those people who don’t use drip irrigation end up drying the dams very fast, we are happy here because since the drip irrigation system was introduced we enjoy continuous flow of water.”

Washington Ngare, Extension Agricultural Extension Officer, Mithiga Ward views the water harvesting technology of using dams as a savoir to Laikipia residents.

“This is a dry region by nature, but something encouraging our farmers are tapping into innovations that would help them cope with changing climatic conditions. Like now it is very dry, signs of drought knocking, but we have some dams with water.”

Ngare cites the biggest challenge farmers face in the region as human wildlife conflict and soil health status.

“Many farmers do not test their soil samples to know what kind of fertilizer to use, and this has made some farmers record loses. We are encouraging them as a ministry of Agriculture to take their soil for testing to understand its status,” he recommends.

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