Kenya: Basin terracing boosts income and cleans up drinking water (Trust)

| May 2, 2016

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On a sunny morning, Samuel Kinuthia and his two employees prepare a fresh strip of land to sow crops on his three-acre farm in Murang’a county, 85 kilometres outside Nairobi.

The farm is surrounded by hills that have been stripped bare of trees, and its red soil is easily eroded by wind and water. But Mr. Kinuthia is using a technique called basin terracing to slow soil erosion and create good farmland.

First, the farmers dig across a hilly patch to make a flat terrace. Then they dig square holes to form basins in the terrace. This is where Mr. Kinuthia will plant his vegetables.

He says: “I used to plant maize and beans, but I could not harvest much…. With basin terracing, I can plant fresh produce like tomatoes, kale, and onions. Both the harvest and the resulting income improve because there is a ready market.”

Basin terracing has boosted Mr. Kinuthia’s income. But it also ensures clean drinking water for Kenyans as far away as Nairobi.

Fred Kihara is a water fund manager for The Nature Conservancy, an international environmental organization that works to protect land and biodiversity. Mr. Kihara explains that basin terracing reduces the amount of soil that is washed or blown into rivers. He adds, “It also increases the amount of water that is being retained in the soil.”

The Upper Tana basin provides water to an estimated nine million Kenyans, but it is a watershed under pressure. Many farmers say the productivity of their land is declining, though they use more fertilizer than five years ago. They also note that rainfall has declined in recent years.

Farming on hilly land has increased the amount of soil in the rivers that feed the country’s largest reservoir, the Ndakaini dam in central Kenya. Soil runoff can include manure and fertilizer used on farms, which pollutes the drinking water many people rely on.

The Nature Conservancy, the Nairobi City Water and Sewage Company, and the Kenyan government created the Nairobi Water Fund to promote basin terracing and other ways of reducing erosion.

Eddy Njoroge is the president of the Nairobi Water Fund. He says, “Water security is likely to pose a bigger challenge as climate change leads to less water in the dry season and heavier deluges in the rainy season.”

Mr. Kinuthia has been building basin terraces for just over a year, and he recommends it. He is grateful that it has helped him grow and sell vegetables, a new revenue stream for his family.

He used to farm maize and beans, but often had little to sell. He says, “The little that I harvested would end up being consumed by the family.”

The improved productivity of the basin terraces, and the fresh produce he grows, means that Mr. Kinuthia can feed his family and earn an income. On a good day, he can harvest eight kilograms of kale. A five-kilogram bundle can fetch $10 US, and his family can eat the rest.

To read the full article on which this story was based, Farm Technology Helps Clean Up Nairobi’s Drinking Water, go to: http://www.reuters.com/article/environment-water-kenya-idUSL5N17G3P2

Photo: Samuel Kinuthia (left) and workers dig basin terraces at his farm in Kiaruta village, Murang’a county, central Kenya. Credit: TRF/David Njagi