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Less flooding and more efficient agriculture: how water harvesting helps Kenya

Growing population, unpredictable weather and poorer soil quality: these are some of the causes why Kenya struggles with water shortages.

About 80 percent of Kenya’s land area suffers from drought which caused not only by the country’s location in the tropics. Kenya’s struggle with extreme drought results from irregular and unpredictable frequency of episodes of drought and of rainfall above all.

Even if the seasons change, both of them bring huge extremes. The beginning of December, 2019 was one of these months when Kenya had to face heavy rainfall. In many areas, Kenya recorded much more precipitation of its long-term average in this so-called “short rain season”.

The Mombasa county recorded 289 more percent precipitation of its long-term average, while other counties, such as Lamu, Malindi, Wajir, Narok and Mandera, recorded more than 200 per cent.

The meteorologist Augustine Kiptum told Daily Nation that this situation is a result of irregular fluctuation of sea-surface temperatures of the Indian Ocean. Another cause of heavy rains is the atmospheric conditions (climate drivers), such as different pressure fronts or air masses, e.g. the Lake Victoria and Indian Ocean air mass.

Extreme drought and its impact on agriculture

Needless to say, no one benefits from extreme droughts. On the contrary, they slow down the agriculture and crop growing, afflicting the majority of Kenyans.

The alarming situation is worsened by the increasing population and decreasing soil quality. The latter driver is results from the overuse of soil, having no rest, and high addition of chemicals to support its nutrients. The effort, however, does precisely the opposite.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa suggests that, due to the poor harvest caused by low soil health, the continent loses $4bn every year.

extreme drought and its impact on agriculture

Fertilizers with nutrients, which the soil lacks, could improve the soil conditions. Whereas developed countries use 94kg of fertilizers per hectare, Kenya uses only 13kg. The local farmers would look after and enrich their soil with deprived nutrients but they are discouraged to buy the fertilizers due to its unavailability and high price.

The effort to alter the crop to weather- and pest-resistant crops failed as well. Unlike the fertilizers, the problem lies in insufficient awareness. Only 10 percent of the farmers are aware of the new crops which could increase the soil fertility.

Water harvesting

Kenyans are starting to seek other solutions to save the soil from total loss of vitality and stop the downfall of agriculture. Water harvesting is one of the introduced solutions, pursued by the 2017 national program.

Thanks to the new irrigation systems, the government, farmers as well as supporting private entities expect from efficient water recycling a year-long crop growing and agricultural production. Water harvesting should also raise the water storage capacity in case of extreme drought season.

Furthermore, last year’s heavy rains showed that water harvesting helps to reduce the impacts of flooding as well.

In practice, water harvesting capacities are built on rivers in order to stop river level rising which would otherwise brought landslides and damage of property and homes.

water harvesting

The newly-built reservoir in the town of Mukurweini capable of storing 3,000 cubic meters of water shows that water harvesting bears fruit. As the reservoir is located near a school, it also serves to reduce the school’s water costs.

Another use of the harvested water is to irrigate farm plots nearby. No less important added benefit is that the residents no longer have to deal with floodwaters destroying their homes and property.

Another valuable, even though currently finished, project was started in 2012. On the Tana River, several water harvesting dams have been constructed that today hold up to 100 million litres of water. The project has also established 325 roof-top water harvesting systems at schools and farms.

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