ACCOUNTING FOR EVERY DROP OF IRRIGATION WATER
Adopting and putting to good use water-efficient irrigation technologies is necessary for delivering water to every irrigable acre without creating conflict with other sectors.
As is the trend in other countries, Kenya’s irrigation sector faces increasing physical and economic water scarcity and high cost of infrastructural maintenance among other challenges as it pursues food and nutritional security against the backdrop of a growing population.
Because irrigation consumes a lot of water, the scarcity of this resource is expected to worsen and become a big challenge to irrigation expansion.
In addition, Kenya is targeting the status of a rapidly industrialising nation, which coupled with the increasing urbanisation, further strain water availability. This results in a highly fragile water-energy-ecosystem-food chain, thereby creating a potential for inter-sectoral water conflicts with potentially far-reaching policy implications.
The National Irrigation Authority is aware of these challenges and is addressing the same through deliberate strategies that promote smart agricultural practices to sustainably grow more with less water. These strategies include migration from basin to furrow irrigation methods in Katilu (Turkana County), upgrading from long-furrow to short-furrow practices in Perkerra (Baringo County) and Katilu, lining of canals in Mwea (Kirinyaga County) and embracing center pivot irrigation in projects such as Galana Kulalu Food Security Project (Tana River and Kilifi counties).
The basin irrigation method is deemed to waste water and is environmentally degrading since it leads to total saturation of cropped fields unlike furrow method which restricts water to the cropped lines. Further, short furrows fill up faster during irrigation and conserve the soil structure and are hence more efficient than long furrows. In addition, lined canals reduce water loss during conveyance and field distribution, thereby conserving more water for irrigation while sprinkler irrigation leads to greater water use efficiency. Using these strategies, less water is wasted and therefore the delivery of water to more irrigable acres is achievable.
Other scalable, profitable and sustainable strategies being promoted by the Authority are crop diversification and intensification as well as small-scale (household) water storage. Crop diversification ensures effective management of pests, weeds and diseases. It also leads to conservation of the soil ecosystem. Crop intensification on the other hand helps to optimise use of available soil and water resources. The household water storage is a game-changer in the sense that it targets agricultural entrepreneurs with strong commercial orientation whose only limitation is access to water. By harvesting surface runoff for irrigation, this strategy enhances resilience to climate variability, prolongs production and yields and stabilises farm incomes.