By David Njagi
Women from Kenya’s North Eastern Province may be the key to unlocking the food potential of the often starved region if a water harvesting project proves to be sustainable.
The women, who count up to over 300 are using an Israeli irrigation technology to harvest rain water which is then channeled for agriculture.
The technology takes advantage of the excess rainfall which the Kenya Meteorological Department says is being experienced in the region, to trap rainwater through construction of contour bands in community owned land.
Area project coordinator Abdirizaq Mahat, says the project was inspired by the realization of the huge amount of rainwater that drains through the region untapped, yet the communities continue to fight over water with the onset of the dry season.
According to Mahat, the irrigation technology is able to tap and conserve rain water surface run off to feed emerging agriculture opportunities in the region for a period of up to six months.
The project, says Mahat, which is an initiative of the Department of Land Reclamation in Kenya’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation, in collaboration with the World Food Programme, has already put more than 10 acres of communal land under cultivation.
“The project is now three years old,” says Mahat. “It is meant to empower the communities to take advantage of agriculture as an income generating activity and reduce the conflict and stress often associated with the scramble for water resources.”
The project, which has mobilized women living within 35 to 45 kilometers away from Dadaab, Ifo and Daghaley refugee camps has engaged the community in the cultivation of maize, millet, watermelon, beans, citrus fruits groundnuts and an assortment of vegetables.
Area field agricultural extension officer, Sophia Gurre, is confident that availability of enough water can transform the often arid region into Kenya’s new food basket, if more water conserving technologies were invested.
“If only we could have more boreholes drilled, the labour force, idle land and investment in new techniques would be enough to feed the entire population of North Eastern Province and perhaps contribute the surplus to the national grain reserve,” says Sophia.
Kenya’s meteorological agency predicts that the highest amount of rainfall will be experienced in most parts of the country during the peak month of April.
For Asha Shurie, however, this will present a good opportunity for her and other women in her group to tap enough rainwater for the next crop.
According to Asha, rainfall collected from arid and semi arid regions of Kenya, which accounts for 80 per cent of the country’s land, is enough to sustain agriculture activities.
Last season alone, she and members of her group fetched some Ksh. 18,000 (about US$ 236) from tomatoes, Ksh. 14,000 (about US$ 184) from kales and Ksh. 19,000 (about US$ 250) from onions.
“We made some Ksh. 200,000 (about US$ 2,631) from cereal and leguminous crops,” says Asha.
Unit of conversion is one USD for 76 Kenya shillings