Farmer’s starring effort in rain water harvesting

Tuesday, April 7th, 2020 00:00 |
Patrick Maina, a former irrigation technician, in his farm at Nturukuma, Laikipia county, harvests every drop of rainwater from all housing structures in his compound to irrigate a four-acre farm. Photo/PD/LEWIS NJOKA

Lewis Njoka @LewisNjoka

Providing water to citizens and alleviating water shortage is largely viewed as the government’s responsibility with non-governmental actors mostly playing a supporting role. 

People wait upon the State to provide piped water to their households, sink boreholes in arid and semi-arid regions or construct water pans and dams among other measures. 

One man from Nturukuma, Nanyuki, however, has taken it upon himself to teach others how to harvest rain and surface runoff water as a way of reducing shortage in areas that receive low rainfall.

This, he says, will help reduce over-reliance on government-led solutions and contribute towards making the country more food-secure.

Patrick Maina, a former irrigation technician and a farmer, taps rainwater from housing structures within his compound.

He then uses it to irrigate a four-acre farm where he grows maize, tree tomatoes, potatoes, onions and hay.

Maina has converted a section his homestead into a training centre, complete with a demonstration set, where he teaches people to harvest water in their own homesteads. 

So popular is Maina’s model farm that farmers from as far as Marsabit and other parts of the country come to his farm for water harvesting and drip irrigation lessons. 

He frequently hosts graduate students who come to carry out research on his farm as part of their school requirements.

Maina also installs irrigation systems, especially drip irrigation, for farmers at a fee.

His journey into becoming water harvesting and drip irrigation trainer began in 2009 when he left his job as an irrigation technician in a local company intending to go into farming.

Farming has been practised in his family for generations and hence came to him naturally. He grew up in Karatina, a farming region, but has settled in Nanyuki.

His first attempt in growing crops in his new farm failed after the community water project he was relying on dried up halfway through his project, causing his cabbages to wither away.

Luckily, he had piloted the project on an eighth of an acre piece of land; hence, the losses were manageable.

Patrick Maina at his water pan, also a fish pond. Photo/PD/LEWIS NJOKA

This prompted him to look for alternative sources of water settling on harvesting runoff water from the path leading to his home.

However, he feared that the runoff water could be too contaminated for domestic uses other than farming, so he shifted to harvesting rainwater starting with a 2,300-litre storage tank. 

Today Maina has a water storage capacity of over 4.4 million litres comprising of ordinary tanks, underground storage and a water pan, which also serves as a fishpond.

He harvests water from virtually every roofed structure in his compound — his four-bedroom bungalow, cowshed, storage sheds and even outdoor bathrooms.  

“No water goes to waste. Water used in washing clothes and utensils is passed through tanks filled with charcoal and lime and then used to water the banana farm,” he explains.

Maina uses this water to grow crops all year round on three acres out of his four acres under drip irrigation.

The entire farm is divided into eighth-of-an-acre plots to ease the irrigation process. This enables him irrigate each section for five minutes every three days. 

On the fourth acre, he grows hay-using water overflowing from the raised water pan.

This water pan, which he uses to store harvested rainwater, is 24 metres high, 23 metres wide and four metres deep. 

He uses a solar-powered pump, which cost him Sh120,000 to buy, to pump water from the pan into the crop fields.

“Electricity costs used to be a big challenge before we installed the solar powered pump. The installation cost is high, but cheaper in the long run,” he says.

The challenges 

He is also connected to a community water project from which he uses water exclusively for domestic use. 

From his farming venture, Maina makes about Sh400,000 a year on the lower side excluding income from the trainings.

This is good income considering that his annual cost of production stands at approximately Sh100,000 a year. 

The farmer has entered into a contract to sell his yields to a local company at pre-agreed prices, which helps him avoid exploitation by brokers.

Maina’s banana plantation. He also grows maize, tree tomato, potatoes, onions and hay under irrigation. Photo/PD/Bernard Gitau 

Thanks to the venture, Maina now lives in a four-bedroom bungalow, a major upgrade from the 12 roofing sheets shack he called home when he joined farming.

However, installing the drip irrigation system is expensive costing about Sh200,000 an acre, including the cost of labour. After the set up, the pipes can last up to nine years. 

“The drip lines will last long so long as you choose good quality and filter water to avoid blockage,” says Maina.

Further, he constantly has to deal with the challenge of elephants and other wild animals, which stray from nearby ranches, destroying his crops.

“The last time they came, they destroyed my raised water pan leading to the death of about 3,000 fish,” he regrets.

He now plans to construct an extra water pan to store more water and eventually turn his farm into an agro-tourism site.

He is currently experimenting with a hydroponic system with an aim to enable him reuse excess water from the farm. 

Dam controversies 

He advises other farmers to harvest water from every available structure, saying it is a game changer in agriculture.

He hopes to influence more people from across the country to follow in his footsteps by sharing his knowledge and experience with them.

Over the last few years, the Uhuru Kenyatta-led government has made commendable effort to alleviate water shortages, especially by building small dams and water pans.  

These projects are transforming lives and changing livelihoods by enabling beneficiaries engage in economic activities hitherto considered untenable in their regions.

The impact of these dams is visible in the semi-arid areas of Ukambani, Laikipia and Taveta as well as the wetter regions of Meru and Nyeri, to name but a few. 

In Makueni county, for instance, over 280 residents are using water from Kwa Mbila dam, an earth dam situated within Kathonzweni area, for horticulture, domestic use and fish rearing, activities previously considered untenable in the area.   

Unfortunately, the success of small dams and water pans has been largely overshadowed by the controversies on corruption, environmental impacts and local consultations surrounding mega dams such as Kimwarer, Aror and Thwake, which have captured the attention of citizens and donor partners.  

Some of the dams slated for construction across the country include the High Grand Falls, which straddles Kitui and Tharaka Nithi counties, Chemasusu in Baringo, Thwake in Kitui, Kanjuri in Meru and Mwache in Mombasa county, among others.

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