Farmers in Murang’a Adopt Water Pans for Sustainable Smart Farming to Curb Climate Change

Farmers in Murang’a Adopt Water Pans for Sustainable Smart Farming to Curb Climate Change

By Lenah Bosibori

In a world where water shortage is becoming increasingly common, David Maina, a horticulture farmer in Murang’a County in central Kenya, is taking a unique approach to tame the shortage by farming smartly using water pans. 

Water pans are a simple method of storing water particularly relevant for livestock farmers. They are “small ponds” dug in low-lying land specifically to collect water from small streams, roofs via gutters and rivulets, and high flow over land during rainfall. They reduce evaporation and provide a source of irrigation during the dry season.

Water pans can store up to 50,000 liters of water mainly for farming and livestock. The water can also be used for fish ponds.

Farmer Maina has one water pan that he is using to harvest rainwater for use during the dry season. The pan, which he started using in 2021, helps in his horticulture farming and also in conserving water resources by ensuring the health and productivity of his crops.

David Maina at his water pan in Muranga County
David Maina working around his water pan in his farm in Murang’a County

Agriculture is Murang’a County’s main economic activity. It plays a crucial role in food and nutrition security and accounts for 57 percent of the county’s employment.

The county is home to large and small-scale cash crop farming, mixed subsistence farming, livestock keeping, and fish farming.

Farmers in the county’s lower midland agro-ecological zones are more exposed to floods, drought, and precipitation variability. Similarly, the upper highland farmers are slightly more exposed to landslides and mudslides, according to a 2019 climate risk assessment by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Co-operatives.

About 23 percent of the county is considered food-poor, the assessment found.

According to Simon Thuo, a programs officer at the Alliance for Global Water and Adaptation (AGWA), in the face of climate change, farmers need to change their agricultural practices by embracing the use of water harvesting equipment like the use of water pans.

AGWA is an international members-based NGO focused on supporting experts, decision makers and institutions within the water community to work together to find solutions for resilient water management. 

“We should change our agricultural practices towards sustainable agriculture, especially in areas which are sloppy and next to rivers,” Thuo said.

Thuo adds there is a need for farmers to stop relying on rainwater but embrace harvesting it in every community and household.

“We have enough rain. The problem is, we don’t have enough water harvesting equipment. We normally leave the water flow to the rivers and oceans, ending up losing everything. We need to think about how we can harvest it,” Thuo said.

This is exactly what Maina is doing in his hilly one-acre farm in Kigumo village, Gatanga sub County, Murang’a County through the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund program (UTNF) . 

UTNF is the first of its kind in Africa now serving as a model across the continent looking for innovative ways to solve ever-increasing water challenges.

The program is funded by The Nature Conservancy and is impacting farmers in the central parts of Kenya that grow their crops on a hillside or mountainous region, for years faced by soil erosion. Officially registered in 2021, the program has so far benefited 30,000 people in the Upper Tana region of central Kenya.

The program has provided farmers in Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Nyandarua counties and the Aberdare Range (mountains) with subsidized water pans at a 50 percent discount of $250 instead of $500. The conservancy has also trained the farmers in how to use the pans and checks on their progress weekly.

Before the project, Maina could not plant different varieties of crops because he only relied on rainfall, but now he has a permanent water source in his homestead that is not drying up.

“I used to plant maize and beans only because they don’t require much water, but now I can plant anything. Right now I have a variety of crops like cabbage, kales, tomatoes, spinach and watermelon,” said Maina during an interview at his farm.

With this innovative method, Maina has managed to get back land that he lost when heavy rains flooded his farm. He has been able to plant napier grass that helps increase soil fertility and reduce soil erosion.

Maina has used his water pan for two years, recording excellent yields and high-quality organic produce for the local community and for commercial purposes. 

He says that the profits from the farm have enabled him to take his three children to school.  “I teach my children from this farm; I have also bought myself a piece of land from the profits,” he said.

He adds that all the knowledge on how to use the pan was provided by Nairobi Water Fund. On a good day, he can make up to USD $100.

“I harvest tomatoes and sell them per crate. One crate can fetch me $56, and pepper is also doing well as I sell $0.4 per kilo,” Maina said.

David maina with journalists
David Maina working around his water pan in his farm in Murang’a County

John Nyagia, a water promoter with Nature Conservancy Nairobi, said the project started in 2017 with 11 people and now stands at 4,000 people who have been trained in Murang’a County.

The Nature Conservancy tackles climate change, protecting oceans, land and freshwater, providing food and water sustainability and building healthy cities.

“The total number of people who have benefited directly from the fund are 30,000 to 40,000 in this area,” adds Nyagia.

“The majority of our beneficiaries are women and girls who are now harvesting the water in their homes instead of going long distances looking for it,” says Thuo.

The water pan can carry up to 50,000 liters of water. “Farmers who have embraced the use of water pans can be able to transform from poverty to where they have income to purchase what they require, and they have suppliers,” says Thuo. 

Jane Kimani is another farmer from the area who is also reaping the benefits of the water pans. 

“I am about to harvest my fish that I started from water pans. I have 7 years since I started using the water pan and I wish I knew about it long ago,” says Kimani.

Kimani gets water for her fish pond from the water pans. She collects it in the pan and moves it to the pond.

Planting sustainable and drought-resistant crops

Along with the water pans, farmers have also been trained by the Upper Tana Nairobi water project to dig trenches and plant napier grass that helps in preventing soil erosion. The fund has also issued the farmers with seedlings for avocado and macadamia nuts that mature very fast.

Kimani has 14 avocado trees and a variety of other crops in her farm.

“We don’t need to wait until it rains to start thinking. Plan to get water-friendly trees that are drought-tolerant and grass that doesn’t dry even when there is drought,” says Kimani. 

Thuo advises farmers to change their agricultural practices towards sustainable agriculture especially in areas which are steep and next to rivers. 

water pan
Vegetables and napier grass grown on a steep slope beside a stream

He urged farmers to look at what kind of crops could be planted in those areas like fruit trees and avocado that benefit families without destroying the soil and the catchment. 

“We should look at a transition from the traditional crops, especially cereals towards sustainable high income-generating trees and also drought-tolerant grass that don’t dry during the drought,” Thuo said.

“Provide greater protection and also see how to restore the natural conservation areas, particularly the wetlands and the natural forest and bushes, brushes and traditional grasses,” Thuo said.

Despite their increased yields, some farmers in the region are still challenged with low prices for produce and brokers mixing organic with non-organic produce, leading to retailing at the same price.

“We have been selling our avocado at a throwaway price; the people who buy from us are brokers, and you know when they come, they come with their own price,” says Kimani.

She adds that they can buy for as low as five shillings per seed.

Kimani adds that she farms pure organic produce, but when they get to the market they mix with ones that are not organic, “leading them to retail at the same price,” said Kimani.

How to construct a water pan

Construction of a water pan needs a flat and level location that is easily accessible to the farm and animals, according to the farmer Maina.

Then, farmers should dig a hole that is two meters deep, 40m by 18m to accommodate the water pan and provide a stable foundation. The pan itself is made of a polythene-like material that can last for an average of eight years before it is worn out. It is delivered by UTNF directly to the farmers already trained. Since it is delivered by UTNF, it is regularly maintained and the environmental impact is minimized during the manufacturing process. 

The next step is to install the water pan in the hole by making sure it is level and has an inlet and outlet for water to flow. Gutters should be connected to the inlet. If necessary, farmers should install a drainage system to prevent overflow and to allow the water to drain away from the water pan area.

Finally, farmers should regularly clean the water pan to keep it free of debris and maintain the water quality, Thuo said.

Farmers interested in acquiring a water pan can visit the offices of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries across the country, who will connect them with the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund.

Editorial support and data visualization by Annika McGinnis and Primrose Natukunda, InfoNile.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkedin
Share on Pinterest
Share on Telegram
Share on WhatsApp

Leave a comment

Related Posts