Kenya: Farmers use irrigation in pastoralist lands (by Sawa Pius, for Farm Radio Weekly)

| October 14, 2013

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Margret Noah has completely changed the way she earns an income. The Maasai woman, from Kenya’s semi-arid Kajiado region 50 kilometres south of Nairobi, is turning away from pastoral and towards sedentary farming. Maasai pastoralists in Kenya generally rely on livestock as their major source of income, but increasing droughts have forced them to look for alternative ways to survive.

Mrs. Noah learned how to grow crops at her local information and resource centre. She and her husband have dedicated the fertile part of their land to growing potatoes, maize, and beans, as well as vegetables like kale, tomatoes and onions.

To ensure her crops are successful, Mrs. Noah uses drip irrigation. She positioned a raised plastic tank in the garden and connected it to some small plastic hosepipes. The hoses circulate water throughout her garden. Water drips slowly through holes in the pipes and soaks the soil next to the plants, helping them thrive.

Mrs. Noah says, “We are very lucky. We are able to fill up the big plastic tank from a borehole that we dug.”

Drip irrigation has been so successful that Mrs. Noah now earns a daily income selling crops to her neighbours. And by growing and eating her own green vegetables and tomatoes, she saves her family a lot of money.

Farmers in the dry northeastern part of Kenya are in dire need of water to grow crops. Some use river water for irrigation. James Mbungo and Sadei Ibrahim use local river water to grow maize, tomatoes, onions and paw paws in Isiolo County, about 200 kilometres northeast of Nairobi.

Ali Surray is an extension officer in Isiolo County. He believes the land has great potential for agriculture. Local farmers need irrigation water from rivers, he says, but a system is needed to ensure that the water is used properly. Mr. Surray adds, “There is a lot of water during rainy seasons and there is a need to harvest the water for irrigation.”

Back in Kajiado, Mrs. Noah no longer keeps a large herd of animals. She is happy to be supplementing the income she earns selling milk with the money she gets from selling crops.

She says: “We have moved from keeping animals because it takes up to five years for the animals to mature before you can sell some to get money. But with crop farming, you start earning money in three months.”