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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Climate smart agriculture for communities’ resilience in Matwiku

By Noah Lusaka
Farming as a business is becoming more risky due to rainfall variability and erratic patterns experienced in recent times affecting farmers’ access to sustainable water resources for food production. This article shares the experiences of Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Help Group based in Githiga Ward, Laikipia County. The Group has adopted climate smart agriculture resulting in efficient use of increasingly scarce water.
The Matwiku Horticulture Self-help Group
The group has 21 members composed of 19 males and two females. Group members are experienced in growing kales, tomatoes, onions and cabbages during the dry season and they consolidate their produce for marketing.
They used to grow crops using conventional furrow and basin irrigation system that involves pumping water using diesel or petrol-powered generators from the nearby Kariaini Dam. “This type of irrigation takes over seven hours to irrigate one acre and the generator will consume six liters of petrol,” says Raphael Wa Mutito, 18.
Farmers learning about Climate Smart Agriculture during an outreach activity
Given that farmers irrigate their farms twice weekly, they incur about Kshs. 1300.00 (US$14) which translates to over Ksh.15, 600.00 (US$173) for fuel alone for horticultural production in a season lasting three months.
Climate smart agriculture practices
Climate smart agriculture aims at reducing emissions at the farm level, conserving natural resources particularly soil and water, while increasing nutritious food production at household level and increasing family incomes.
This project was introduced to Matwiku Horticulture Growers Self Help Group by Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) in partnership with Act. Change. Transform! (Act!) with financial support from the Embassy of Sweden and the United Kingdom Agency for International Development (UKAID).
The project aims at strengthening communities’ resilience as well as enhancing income generation from horticultural production while creating employment opportunities for women, men and young people.
 Among the climate smart agriculture practices include: Water harvesting and conservation- group members have invested in digging a shallow well near the farm that is now providing sustainable water supply; drip irrigation technology which uses water more efficiently and enhances water control and conservation on the farm; and planting of tree tomato plants that produce fruits while sequestering carbon dioxide. Soil fertility enhancement is done through use of farm yard manure. The group also prepares their own liquid manure.

Setting up the drip irrigation system

Group members were trained on setting up the drip irrigation system and its management in mid-November 2014. During the five-day training, a 5,000-liter water tank was mounted on a firm metal platform with an elevation of three meters above the ground, bringing about enough pressure for water to irrigate one acre.
Some of the group members weeding
Participants dug trenches to lay out the piping system on the one acre farm that was subdivided into eight smaller plots and each plot installed with a gate valve for controlling water during irrigation. The drip irrigation taps were then connected to the water pipes where one raised bed had two drip tapes.
The final stage involved mounting the water storage tank. A water filter was fixed at the water tank outlet to reduce clogging of the drip tapes. Group members learned that it is important to regularly check and clean the filter to ensure smooth water supply to the farm.
To test the drip irrigation system, the storage tank was filled with water and each of the eight farm units watered at intervals to wet the soil. The group then planted tomatoes at the wetted soil zones covering four blocks: two blocks for cabbages and two for beans.
Outreach activities
The group members, with the support of ALIN, organized an open day in January 2015 where over 350 farmers participated and learnt about climate smart agriculture practices including water harvesting and its efficient utilization. The opportunity offered a platform for communities to interact with the County leaders.
Lessons learnt
Some of the members enjoying the fruit of their labour
Less water is used per acre since the water targets the root zone of the crops only; therefore helping in water conservation and efficient use for food production. The crops are grown systematically and are evenly spaced. Drip irrigation reduces workload for farmers since the water is easily controlled per block by only one person opening the gate valve then water flows through the drip tapes reaching each plant.
Also energy for water pumping is conserved by using the generator less frequently hence reduction of harmful emissions. Water is distributed to a section of the land that is slightly sloping and encourages crop growth. The group has initiated a revolving fund that enables all farmers to access the drip irrigation technology enhancing their resilience by producing food without relying on rainfall.
Challenges
Initially the group was drawing water for irrigation from Kariani Dam. As the drought intensified however, the dam completely dried up in mid-February 2015. They had to innovatively dig up a shallow well near their farm to overcome this constraint.
The Matwiku area is near a conservancy hence farmers have to guard their crops against elephants and other game during the night. Neighboring pastoralist communities also pose a threat because they occasionally allow their animals to stray into farms, resulting in conflict.
Source: Laikipia Mali Asili. You can download a copy of the newsletter here
Noah Lusaka is a Programme Manager at ALIN he can be reached through nlusaka@alin.net
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