Crop farming in an area with little rainfall is tricky for most farmers.
Patrick Mburu found himself in this situation in 2010 when he ventured into horticultural farming in Munyu village, Naivasha, Nakuru County.
Eager to reap benefits of farming, Mburu started with spinach in one acre farm when the long rainy season was about to begin.
“I was totally aware this area experiences little rainfall, but resolved to capitalise on the rainy season that was about to start,” he says.
Mburu had invested Sh50,000 in the spinach farm. Then rains delayed for over a month and his young crops withered. But this did not dampen his spirit.
“I had decided to farm and despite the loss, l wanted to give it a second try,” he recalls. So Mburu decided to try irrigation farming after realising that rain-fed agriculture was out of the question in that area.
Expanded his farm
With a loan, Mburu bought a diesel pump to pump water from a nearby tank donated by an NGO. He planted spinach in the same piece of land and this time made some profits that encouraged him to carry on with his venture.
Mburu expanded his farming activities onto five acres and planted potatoes, sukuma wiki, spinach, carrots, green peas and maize.
Almost at the same time, diesel prices rose remarkably and irrigation became very expensive for him.
“High cost of diesel was eating into most of my profits,” he says.
He then bought an electric water pump to replace the diesel-powered one. But the electricity presented its own challenges too, there was always constant blackout.
On several occasions, he was forced to draw water from the pan and distribute in the farm manually using a bucket. This was quite tiresome and he would only manage to water a small section in a day. The electricity costs were also high, making the whole initiative a sort of fiasco.
Mburu says his turning point came early last year when he and other farmers from the area attended a training dubbed Smart Water for Agriculture project organised by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, a Dutch NGO.
The organisation trained farmers on best water conservation and use of latest solar-powered water pumps.
After the training, Mburu used some of the proceeds from his farm to buy a solar water pump that cost him Sh97,000. For close to a year now, Mburu no longer incurs electricity bills or costs of buying diesel as before. He says now he saves up to Sh35,000 a week.
Mburu now plans to expand his farm to close to 10 acres and purchase a cooling machine that will preserve his produce as it awaits market.
Fresh Produce Association of Kenya CEO Hosea Machuki says solar pumps are the solution to farmers because they are less expensive to operate. He says the pumps do not pollute the environment as compared to those that use diesel or petrol.
Machuki advises smallholder farmers to go for smaller solar pumps that cost Sh30,000. The most expensive pump costs Sh300,000.