Kimwarer, Aror and Thwake, changing lives of communities

Tuesday, December 17th, 2019 00:00 |
A worker connects pipes to irrigate a farm using water pumped from Kwa Mbila Dam in Makueni. Photo/PD/LEWIS NJOKA

Dominic Mutiso

Small and medium dam projects across the country are transforming lives and changing livelihoods by enabling beneficiaries to engage in economic activities hitherto considered untenable in their regions.

The impact of these dams, under the national government, is visible in the semi-arid areas of Kitui, Laikipia and Taveta as well as the wetter regions of Meru and Nyeri. 

Unfortunately, their success has been largely overshadowed by controversies surrounding mega dams such as Kimwarer, Aror and Thwake, which have captured the nation’s attention for a while now.  

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

Fridah Mueni, a mother of three, began growing watermelons in January this year using water from the dam. All she parts with is Sh250 a month for unrestricted access to the precious commodity. 

She makes about Sh32,000 per tonne of watermelons, harvesting about five tonnes per season from her one-and-a-half acre farm. 

Shower once 

“Before the construction of the dam, we used to shower once a week, even finding drinking water was a challenge. Today, I grow watermelons, maize and tomatoes all year round,” she says.  

Fridah Mueni, a beneficiary of the project shows off some of her farm produce. Photo/PD/LEWIS NJOKA

Her farming venture has enabled her pay school fees for her children, settle everyday bills and employ at least four farm workers on a need-be basis.

Prior to the dam, Mueni, like most of her neighbours, used to sink shallow wells on the banks of River Londokwe, a nearby seasonal river for water. 

“Before the construction of the dam, searching for water was a full time job since the nearest water point is about five kilometers away.

Many people here are now earning money by growing green maize and other crops on irrigation,” said Public Management Committee vice chairman Boniface Mutiso.

The idea to have a dam in Kathonzweni was mooted in 1956 during colonial times but failed to take off.

Efforts to revive the project in 1973 and 2013 also failed due to lack of funds, but finally kicked off in March 2015 after Makueni county government funded it at Sh7m million and offered excavators for construction. 

Today, the 150m-litre capacity dam, completed in October 2015, serves both Kathonzweni and Kitese Kithuki wards. 

Members seeking to pump water to their farms for irrigation pay Sh250 per month and those fetching manually using containers pay Sh50 per household every month. Filling up a 5000-litre water bowser from the dam will cost you Sh400. 

To ensure the project benefits as many people as possible, the dam’s management committee has set up water kiosks at Kavumbu, Tamutamu, Mbuvo and Junction selling a 20-litre container at the subsidised cost of Sh3. 

According to Dominic Kiwia, the Makueni sub-county water engineer, Kwa Mbila has enough water to meet the daily demand of 80,000 litres for over two years.

“Our dream is to ensure the longest distance one should go looking for water within the county is two kilometres. This area has high agriculture potential, but lacked water before,” said Kiwia.  

He adds that the dam, which sits on 15 acres of land donated by the community, cost Sh17 million for both excavation and plumbing works, and indicated there are plans to construct a Sh7m elevated water tank at Kwa Mbila Junction and another Sh5m tank at Kiambani.

No conflicts 

To maximise on the dam, fed by Londokwe and Siatu seasonal rivers, and diversify on sources of income, the management committee introduced into the dam 8,000 tilapia fish and 600 mudfish which it hopes to harvest soon. 

In Meru County, Thangatha dam, an earth dam situated in Micii Mikuru on the slopes of Nyambene hills, has eliminated water conflicts downstream besides providing locals with water for domestic use and smallholder irrigation. 

“Going forward, our people downstream will no longer have conflicts brought about by water scarcity,” said Tigania East Member of Parliament Josphat Kabeabea.

With the dam water, Kabeabea adds that people downstream of Micii Mikuru have seen improved earnings per household.

“Prior to the dam’s construction, we had challenges with people living upstream, in Micii Mikuru and Kirima Ntuma, diverting too much water from River Thangatha, leaving almost nothing for those downstream, resulting in conflicts,” said Lawrence Mutwiri, Tigania East constituency office manager.

The 50-metre litre capacity dam, opened in August 2018, supplies water to Thangatha, Kiguchwa, and Mikinduri wards and to parts of Tigania West and Isiolo. 

Mutwiri now wants another water intake constructed deeper into Nyambene Forest to enable people living upstream to enjoy piped water like their peers downstream.

Panning efforts 

In Nyeri, a Sh1.2 billion dam under construction in the relatively dry Mathira West is being touted as the magic bullet that will solve all water-related challenges in the area. 

“In two years’ time, the quality of life in this area will be completely changed. The dam will enable people grow fruits and vegetables for sale, hence empowering them economically,” Tana Water Works Development Agency chairman Wahome Mwangi said. 

The dam, to be completed next year, can serve the entire Mathira West for 200 days without an additional source of water.  

In total, the dam and another water project on River Ragati in Mathira East will cost Sh11 billion. 

In the drier parts of Taita Taveta county, Patrick Mwalua, a renowned conservationist who rose to fame in 2017 for delivering water to starving animals in Tsavo West National Park, is using water pans to resolve human-animal conflicts.

The pans are under a sunflower-farming project for two reasons: first, elephants don’t eat sunflower and secondly, sunflower farms harbour bees, which discourage animals from straying into human habitats thus reducing human-animal conflicts.

Mwalua grows 20 acres of sunflower in Kajire, Taita, earning him a minimum of Sh700,000 per harvest. 

In Nanyuki, Laikipia county, Patrick Maina, an irrigation technician-turned-farmer, has constructed a water pan, which doubles up as a fish pond, and uses it to drip-irrigate his three acres of land. 

He earns approximately Sh400,000 annually growing onions, tree tomatoes, and rearing fish.

The 24-metre long and 4-metre-deep water pan enables Maina irrigate his farm all year round making him one of the most sought-after smallholder farmers in Nanyuki. 

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