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Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Irrigation Systems in Matwiku village

By Bob Aston
Irrigation particularly in arid and semi arid areas has been instrumental in boosting the level of agriculture in such areas. More farmers are opting to irrigate their farms as available rainfall is unreliable to support growth of many crops. In Matwiku village in Ng’arua Division, Laikipia County farmers have embraced irrigation practices as they seek to improve their livelihood through farming.
Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) officials visited the area to learn about the current irrigation systems used and challenges faced by the farmers while using the systems.
Mr. Kanyita irrigating his farm
Matwiku farmers use water from Kariaini dam while others have dug shallow wells and ponds given that the water table is high. Most farmers in the area have diversified their activities by venturing into horticulture farming. Kales, tomatoes, cabbages and onions are plenty in the area. A farmer group called Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Help Group was formed and registered in January 2014 to champion their interest.
Furrow and basin irrigation are two of the most widely used types of irrigations in the area. Under farrow irrigation water is applied and distributed over the soil surface by gravity while basin irrigation requires a level field to be surrounded by a ridge of earth to form a basin and flooding it with water.
Water has never been a problem in Matwiku and at the same time the soil in the area is also conducive for farming due to low filtration level.
Mr. Peter Kanyita, a member of Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Group, who was in his farm irrigating a quarter of an acre which he has planted onions, narrated to the officials how basin irrigation which he has been using is time consuming. He said a farmer can spend even a whole day irrigating his farm.
He said he usually spends two (2) litres of fuel to irrigate the onions using a small water generator. With diesel cost averaging Ksh 104 per litre he spends Ksh 208 in his quarter of an acre for irrigation each day he irrigates. He irrigates his farm twice a day thus per week he spends Ksh 416 on fuel to run his small water pump. After three months when his onions will be ready he will have spent close to Ksh 5,000 on pumping water for irrigation alone.
He said the amount of fuel used depends with topography of the land. Flat farms like his do not require a lot of fuel for irrigation.
Cabbages grown in one of the farms in the area
Mr. Kanyita gave an example of connecting PVC pipes as one of the things that consumes a lot of time. The PVC pipes he said are expensive in the long run as they require frequent replacement. Exposure to direct sunlight for a long time also has a harmful effect.
He has been buying the PVC pipes between Ksh 200 to Ksh 300 per metre depending on the quality of the pipe. Some of the farmers he said have now started using Flex hose pipe which is retailing at Ksh 600 per metre. This he said is expensive for most farmers as some require pipes which are more than 40 metres in length.
Mr. Peter Gicheru, Secretary, Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Help Group said that need for irrigation has been necessitated by erratic weather conditions brought by climate change.
Mr. Gicheru cites one of the constraints that they are facing as high cost of financing equipments especially buying water pumps. He said most farmers are reluctant to share pumps while those who decide to lend out will charge Ksh 150 for hiring the pump and Ksh 200 as labour charges. This is exclusive of fuel and oil charges which will also have to be catered for by the farmer. Low horsepower, diesel pumps are very popular among the farmers in the area. The pumps cost between 15,000 and 22,000 depending on capacity.
Basin irrigation which is favored among onions growers in the area is viewed by the farmers as an inexpensive system but most of them agree that they spend a lot of time dividing the farm into smaller unit areas so that each has a nearly level surface as well as constructing bunds or ridges around the areas forming basins within which the irrigation water can be controlled.
One of the farmers irrigating his farm
“Basin irrigation is water intensive, it requires a smooth topography and it also limits use of machinery. We have to use hand held equipments like jembe while farming. This is a bit restrictive,” said Mr. Gicheru.
Increase in food production in the area has also brought a new challenge of lack of market. Finding a reliable market for farm produce has been a problem. This is compounded by the poor road network from Kinamba to Matwiku.
To address these challenge the farmers bulk their produce in order to have a good bargaining power when selling. They take their produce twice a week to Kisii or Nairobi depending on the availability of market.
“Last season was good to us as we used to bulk our produce and send around 100 crates of tomatoes to either Nairobi or Kisii. A crate used to fetch around Ksh 4,000. This translated to Ksh 400,000 per trip and Ksh 800,000 per week,” said Mr. Gicheru.
The current lack of rainfall being experienced in the country has hardly affected the area. More farmers in Matwiku are now scaling up as they seek to increase land under irrigation.
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