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My passion is water management

EVE WOMAN
By - | July 29th 2012

Professor Bancy Mati, 53, is a pioneer of a new method of growing rice that uses less water and increases yields. She talked to PHARES MUTEMBEI about her many achievements in water management

It has taken hard work and sacrifice to get to the level of professor. It has been tough balancing family demands and my career, which involves conducting research and authoring many scientific papers and books.

Water management is my profession, my problem and my passion. All life forms require water hence the adage; ‘water is life’. However, water is often a problem.

The rains are never enough or reliable to allow crops to grow and yield adequately. It is this kind of water problems that I seek to find solutions for, and hopefully, influence some action.

The main cause of water scarcity in Kenya is not the lack of water or rain, but the failure to store and properly manage available rainfall and water resources. Seeking this knowledge, writing about it, disseminating it and implementing projects has taken me on a career path full of surprises, frustrations and sometimes rewards.

Publications

I have spent many years researching, gathering knowledge, travelling, writing, training and advocating for water management. As a researcher, I have gathered an inventory of technologies and practices on water management.

I have over 100 publications in refereed journals, books, book chapters, training manuals, conference papers, workshop reports, research reports, policy documents and technical presentations at international conferences.

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In 2008, I published a booklet entitled 100 ways to manage water for smallholder agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa. This book is available on the Internet and has been widely quoted. I have just completed a set of ten training manuals, which cover aspects of water management such as rainwater harvesting, water supply, irrigation and drainage.

I have travelled to 43 countries, including 25 in Africa, in the quest for knowledge. I have also dabbled in film production. In 2008, I produced seven documentaries on farmer interventions in water management in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Vision 2030

In December last year, we established the first Water Research and Resource Centre (Warrec) in Kenya, based at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. I am the centre’s pioneer director. Warrec is poised to contribute to the Vision 2030 through science and technology for water sector growth.

The centre addresses broad issues such as urban and rural water supplies and sanitation, watershed management, irrigation and drainage, rainwater harvesting, waste water, health and environmental aspects.

Rice is grown in flooded paddies throughout the world, but in 2009, I introduced System of Rce Intensification (Sri), a method of growing rice without flooding the paddy.

Considering its advantages of conserving water, considerably increasing yields and eradicating mosquitos, SRI has been adopted by thousands of farmers in Mwea, Ahero, Bunyala and West Kano irrigation schemes.

Other projects I have undertaken include developing water policies and strategies, facilitating harmonisation of water protocols and setting up networks and institutions. I have also done project evaluation and developed training materials such as books, videos and pamphlets. I have also been involved in peer review of various documents, proposals and reports as well as capacity building at various levels.

One of the networks I headed is the Improved Management of Agricultural Water in Eastern and Southern Africa (Imawesa), which covered 23 countries in eastern and Southern Africa. Under the auspices of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa, I was manager of Imawesa between 2005 and 2010, where I registered over 1,000 scientists in the region.

I have been a chairperson of the Kenya Rainwater Association, board member of the Global Water Partnership, advisor to International Rainwater Harvesting Alliance, council member of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya and many others. These forums have provided a platform for me to share my knowledge.

I am also professor of Land and Water Management at JKUAT, where I handle courses and research in areas such as rainwater harvesting, watershed management, engineers in society and supervision of students’ projects.

I have also served on the Board of the Global Water Partnership and as advisor to several international organisations and programmes.

Fetching water led to my life’s purpose

 I was born in Kanyuambora Village, Mbeere North District, Embu County. Growing up in the village wasn’t easy. My father was a teacher and an agricultural officer in the colonial government. He later worked in the engineering workshop of the British Army.

My grandfather started the Anglican Church at Kanyuambora and the Kanyuambora Primary School. My mother valued education and she worked hard to keep us in school.

I discovered my passion for knowledge in Class Three and I made a conscious effort to always top the class. Being the third born and oldest girl in a family of eight children, I know firsthand the problems of water scarcity. As a little girl, I fetched water from the river every day after school.

I attended Kangaru High School both for my O-Levels and A-Levels. I did well in science subjects, particularly Mathematics. I was always the best in Mathematics up to Form Six. Unfortunately, the sciences are still a domain of boys and many parents would rather their boys do the engineering stuff and girls do the ‘softer’ subjects.

I attended the University of Nairobi where I was the only girl and the first in Kenya to take Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Engineering, graduating in 1983. I am the first female to be registered as an agricultural engineer and the fourth in Kenya. I served a short stint with the Ministry of Agriculture, where I was in charge of evaluation and training on soil conservation, but joined JKUAT (then JKCAT) as a lecturer in 1985. I enrolled for a Masters degree in Land and Water Management at the University of Nairobi in 1989, immediately after I got my last born.

On graduating with MSC in 1992, I returned to JKUAT to lecture and do a few consultancies, mostly on soil and water conservation and designing road drainage protection structures.

In 1996, I registered for PhD studies at Silsoe College of Cranfield University, in the UK. With a scholarship from Rockefeller Foundation, I studied Rural Land Use and Geographic Information Systems. My PhD research work was conducted in the Ewaso Ng’iro Basin of Kenya.

I graduated with PhD in 1999 and returned to Kenya, full of enthusiasm. At JKUAT, I rose to become associate professor in 2004 and later full professor in 2010. By this time, I was well established as an authority on agricultural water management both locally and internationally. I have also implemented several water harvesting projects.

I gradually found myself consulting more for international organisations. I consider consultancy to be the more interesting aspect of my life. Each new assignment is different, offering a chance to learn something new, which I use in the next project and/or research, and from which I draw practical lessons for teaching.

 I am married to Nick Muverethi and we have four children — Munene, Eden, Wycliffe and Sylvia. Family means everything to me. My family, particularly my husband, has been very supportive, encouraging me all the time.

My hobbies are reading, photography, movies, music and traveling. I keep fit through aerobics, walking and weight lifting.

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