Kenya’s farmers need to embrace innovation in irrigation technology

NAIROBI…Stakeholders in the irrigation and water sector are urging both the national government and county governments to educate farmers on the various types of irrigation systems.

This according to Davis & Shirtliff, a water, and energy solutions company, says will go a long way towards increasing the use of irrigation across the country and improving the efficiency of existing schemes.

With the achievement of food security being one of the government’s Big Four Agenda, best practices in irrigation can be the much-needed step of action that will see the country finally be able to meet its annual demand of 51 million bags of maize.

‘’ Farmers can do more to optimize the use of water in their lands, and both the National and County governments can help them by investing in farmer outreach, education and assistance programs for on-farm water-use best management practices, all of which will yield better returns,” said Davis & Shirtliff CEO David Gatende.

The call comes in the wake of the on-going short rains and the debate on the proposed Irrigation Bill 2017 that hopes to promote and regulate development and management of irrigation in Kenya.

The proposed Bill, if enacted, seeks to move the country from relying too heavily on rain-fed agriculture and into irrigation with the bill proposing that counties be in-charge of small-scale irrigation schemes which are currently under the national government.

The CEO of Davis & Shirtliff, which currently is involved in irrigation schemes in Kiambu, Nairobi and Taita Taveta counties added that: “Along with the education of farmers, more studies should be done to ensure that the best crops are recommended depending on the climatic conditions and soil types.”

As the Irrigation Bill continues to be deliberated on, Mr. Gatende pointed out that it is important that the Bill covers the different scenarios that can affect irrigation across the country.

“The best irrigation systems vary depending on the available water resources which in turn vary across the different parts of the country. The irrigation bill should, therefore, cover these different scenarios and advise Kenyans on what the best practice would be in each situation from arid and semi-arid areas where water is scarce to other areas where water is plentiful,” he said.

If enacted, the bill will also see the National Irrigation Board (NIB) replaced by National Irrigation Development Authority (NIDA). NIDA will have an expanded obligation that will include water storage infrastructure, water harvesting, and flood control.

Mr. Gatende, therefore, urges that collaboration is enhanced by sharing a common vision of what would be in the best interest of Kenyans at large.

“Institutions like the Water Resources Management Authority should be strengthened and supported as they play a key role in regulation. The national government could pass a law stipulating that all homes should harvest rainwater at a recommended number of liters per home which would be stored and used. Some basic disinfection would also be advised to prevent people drinking contaminated water,” he pointed out.

This could be the first step towards ensuring that an estimated 1.3 million Kenyans who, according to World Bank, faced starvation last year do not continue to endure perennial drought.

In the same breath, farmers are being urged to take advantage of the on-going short rains by harvesting and storing the rainwater and conserving by using the best irrigation systems and the best-suited crops for their area.