By Mwangi Mumero
With the ongoing drought situation in the country, smallholder farmers who have invested in drip irrigation are making a killing as demand for vegetables soars amidst scarcity.
Profits are better for farmers who have gone further and invested in greenhouses- some simply made with locally available recycled materials. Buyers are trooping from Nanyuki town and further afield coming for the vegetables.
” Clearly, this drought has brought us good fortunes. Demand for kales, capsicum, tomatoes and dhania is too high for me to even cater for half the orders,” remarks Susan Karungari, a smallholder vegetable farmer in Umande village, Laikipia East district.
On her one-acre farm, overlooking scenic Ol Daiga Hills, she has grown courgettes, capsicum, kales and dhania all under open-air drip irrigation system. She started off using drip irrigation technology in late 2010.
She has also gone further and invested in the over KSH 90,000 ($ 1, 125) greenhouse for the production of tomatoes that have provided the backbone of her agricultural activities.
” Drip farming is the way to go for smallholder farmers especially those like us in arid and semi-arid areas. It is economical and labour intensive especially after the system is in place,” says Karungari, a married mother of two and a member of Umande Rainwater Harvesting Project. She is among 60 other local farmers who have introduced drip irrigation in the project supported by the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) through a local organisation COMPACT.
Most have quarter acre plots making it over 15 acres under irrigation in this dry and parched region.
Each farmer was to foot 50 percent of the cost of setting up of the drip system with COMPACT funding the rest.
Over KSH 6 million ($ 75, 000) has been invested in the drip irrigation to boost food security and reduce dependence on food aid.
An irrigation kit includes a storage water tank, lateral and emitter pipes. The irrigation kit is supplied by Warem Enterprises, a firm involved in drip irrigation technology development.
” Depending on the storage capacity of the tank and the size of the pipes, a drip system goes for between KSH 3,000 – 15,000. ($ 37.5- 187.5). It is affordable and manageable and most of the local farmers have realized the value the system has added to their food security”, observed Ronald Kamadi, a technical assistant with the Kenya Rain Waters Association, the body that has been providing technical support for the local farmers. With no credit forthcoming from financial organizations, local farmers have to scrap through their saving to fund their activities. However, sourcing of some of the farm inputs such as seeds and fertilizers has been supported by the Sygenta Foundation.
Among the hardest hit by incessant dry weather throughout the year, Laikipia East occasionally receives relief food when crop failure occurs.
Cattle rustling is also common as pastoral communities seek alternatives to their dwindling fortunes as livestock die.
But water remains the biggest challenge to the local farmers. When the People visited the farmers, the region had not received a drop of rain for a long time and most of the recently germinated crops were withering.
” Water harvesting through surface runoff is an important component of the drip irrigation. Each farmer had to construct a 50,000-litre underground reservoir to save all the surface runoff from the nearby roads and cattle tracks. This provides the main water source for the drip irrigation”, asserts Kamadi, a water engineer, adding that the dry weather has made water scarce and demoralized some farmers. The storage tanks are constructed using dam liners and other roofing materials obtained from SAPLUS Ltd with each tank taking 7 days to complete and costing KSH 32,000 ($ 400).
The 2 metre-deep underground water ponds have then to be covered with some roofed sheeting to reduce water loss through evaporation as well as acting as a safeguard against accidents.
” At least 75 percent of the drip system owners are active producing a continuous supply of vegetables for the market. The other 25 percent has had to reduce their production due to water scarcity”, said Johnson Mureithi, the chairman of the Umande Rain Water Association.
Innovative farmers like Susan are not however deterred by the water shortage.
Using a diesel run water pump, she has been able to draw water from the neighbouring River Sirimon for her small plot. However, use of the river water has presented some challenges as other water users complain of declining supply especially downstream.
” With kales selling like hot dogs at 15 leaves for KSH 10, courgettes at KSH 30 a kilo and tomatoes at KSH 20 a kilo, all my overhead fuel and labour costs are covered and profit realized. If the price of tomatoes stabilises at KSH 30-40 per kilo, we will be able to recoup all our initial investment of KSH 90,000 by August this year,” notes Susan, observing that her 8m by 15 m greenhouse was a good example of self employment. The greenhouse has 327 tomato plants and will continuously produce fruits for over 8 months when well managed.
“This project has increased our income as a family and improved our earnings. We hope that with time, we will be able to increase our capacity and acreage and probably supply a larger produce and boost earnings”, says the youthful farmer.
While other greenhouse owners in the country have purchased them from commercial manufacturers- sometimes going for KSH 200,000 ($ 2, 500) local farmers in Laikipia have used recycled polythene sheets -reducing costs.
Nationally, irrigation projects are being initiated to boost food production.
They include the KSH 30 million($ 375, 000) Mirichu irrigation scheme in Muranga, the World Bank supported KSH 2.2 billion ($ 27.5 million) project in Lower River Nzoia in Western Kenya and the Ksh 60 million ($ 750, 000) project in Embu County.