Farmers collect rainwater to boost yields

Kenya: Farmers collect rainwater to boost yields (Farmers Trend)

Patrick Mukuna is enjoying year-round bumper harvests of onions and kale at a time when many farmers in his area are complaining of dwindling yields because of poor rains. The 51-year-old’s success is due to a simple technology for harvesting rainwater. Mr. Mukuna explains, “I dug a water pan [reservoir] about seven years ago. It resembles a lined pond and collects and stores runoff rainwater, which I use for irrigation.”

Mr. Mukuna uses the harvested water to grow cash crops on his five-acre farm in Munyu, in central Kenya’s Nakuru County.
 
He uses 1,000 litres of water a week for irrigation. His reservoir has a capacity of 400 cubic metres, which gives him a constant supply of water throughout the year. To minimize costs, Mr. Mukuna uses a solar water pump. He says, “I first pump the [pan] water into a tank before pumping it to drip pipes on the farm.”
 
Mr. Mukuna divided his land into separate 500 square metre plots for each of his crops. He explains, “I plan my farming in such a way that I harvest different crops throughout the year.”
 
Kariuki Wachira is another farmer in the area who harvests rainwater with a water pan. He says farmers who use this technique have enough water even during periods of severe drought.
 
But digging a 400-cubic-metre reservoir is a lot of work. So Mr. Wachira and 35 other farmers in his area formed a group to help each other with the digging. He says, “It took us almost a week to dig a pan in every homestead.”
 
Mr. Wachira explains that, after digging the pan, the farmers spread an ultra-heat treated polythene sheet on the bottom to prevent water from seeping into the soil. The farmers learned how to harvest rainwater from an international NGO called World Wide Fund for Nature, which also provided the farmers with polythene sheets.
 
Mr. Wachira adds: “The ultra-heat treated polythene paper costs more than 30,000 [Kenyan] shillings [$286 US], which many of us cannot afford, so we approached the World Wide Fund for Nature, which gave us the sheets and manual water pumps.”
 
Jeremy Bird is the managing director of the International Water Management Institute in Kenya. He says farmers will increasingly need to rely on water storage in order to adapt to climate change.
 
He says: “It is important to increase investment in a range of water storage techniques, including banking groundwater during the wet season, harvesting rainwater, and storing water in the ground by conserving soil moisture.”
 
Because of his water pan, farming has become a stable source of income for Mr. Mukuna, and he is now able to feed his family. He says, “In a week, I earn at least 4,000 [Kenyan] shillings [$38 US] from vegetable sales.”