Rainfall in western Kenya’s Nyando District is increasingly unpredictable. The rains start late and end early. Dry spells are longer and more frequent. When the rains do fall, they are often intense and lead to flooding. Farmers in the area are being forced to adjust quickly.
Eddy Ouko farms in Jimo village, in western Kenya’s Kisumu County. In the past, he was often without a reliable water source for his vegetable garden, orchards, and livestock. But then he learned about water harvesting through farmer field schools run by the Kisumu County government and research organizations.
He says, “Water pans have increased water availability for my crops and livestock.”
By harvesting water, farmers can access it when they need it. Many farmers in the area used to rely on rivers and streams to provide water for livestock. But a research program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security project has established “climate-smart villages” in Nyando, and is supporting farmers to implement water harvesting, greenhouses, and irrigation technologies.
Collecting surface runoff—water that flows off the land when it rains—is the most common water harvesting practice in Nyando. Some farmers are also investing in water harvesting pans, and farmers have built more than 120 pans in the area. The pools vary in capacity from 48,000 to 100,000 litres for individual households. The water in the pans can be used for up to three months.
Building a water pan requires an investment of labour and materials. Pans are dug into the ground and are generally lined, although the material for liners can be expensive. If farmers can afford it, they add shade nets to control evaporation. Many farmers in Nyando cannot afford liners to prevent water from seeping into the ground, so they have resorted to compacting the earth at the bottom and around the walls of the pan. Building water pans in areas with clay soil ensures that the water will seep out more slowly.
Pans should have sloped sides, and a spillway that allows excess water to flow away. A fence helps keep livestock away, and liners minimize the loss of water.
John Obuom also farms in Kisumu County. He is not only using water pans, but raises fish in them. He earned $800 US from raising catfish in his two pans, which hold a combined 120,000 litres.
Mr. Obuom uses a manual pump and irrigation pipes to water his three-acre farm. In the short rainy season, he grows maize, green gram, kale, tomatoes, butternut squash, and indigenous vegetables. He also grows perennial crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, bananas, and pawpaws. His livestock include dairy and meat goats, poultry, and bees. In the future, he plans to invest in a dairy cow.
Building water pans purchased a water pump was expensive. But Mr. Obuom says the investment is worth it. His income doubled in the first season of using the water pans, and has tripled since 2013. He says, “Subsequently, I increased the number of pawpaw plants [I grow] from less than 10 to 120, and grafted mangoes from 13 to 75 stems.”
This story is based on a blog post from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security, titled “Coping with unpredictable rainfall patterns in Nyando.” To read the full story, go to: https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/coping-unpredictable-rainfall-patterns-nyando#.WJMT0Rt96M- 
With additional information from the International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance: http://www.irha-h2o.org/?p=1683 
And additional information from this case study: https://cgspace.cgiar.org/rest/bitstreams/56709/retrieve 
Photo credit: S. Kilungu (CCAFS)