Evurori location in Mbeere North, Embu County, is characterised by baking heat and swathes of wasteland. For years, many farmers relied on seasonal and inadequate rainfall to grow crops like millet, sorghum, and cowpeas.
Many a time, they had nothing to show at the end of the harvest season. Frequent droughts and climate change affected their harvests and pests and diseases further compounded the issue. With no harvests, they relied on food aid from the government and NGOs.
But in a bid to change this narrative, a few years ago a group of farmers came together, pulled resources and tapped water from the nearby Thuci River for irrigation. The group, Green Paradise with more than 1,000 members, approached the Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (UTaNRMP) for financial assistance to invest in a modern drip irrigation system that can irrigate hundreds of farms.
Because they had a strong business proposal, the organisation offered them pipes and irrigation fitting systems worth Sh36 million. The community provided labour for the project.
Joseph Ngungi, the founder and current chair of Green Paradise group, says the water project is now a game-changer.
“Water is life. We used to queue for food aid because our farms were barren due to the lack of rain. But now that we use drip irrigation, our farms are bursting with life,” he says.
Four harvests per year
After getting a steady source of water, Ngungi says the community embarked on intensive farming and now most farmers have up to four harvests per year.
“Our women were also relieved because they used to walk up to 15 kilometres to the river every day. Now they have more time to do other useful economic activities,” Ngungi adds.
Hunger and reliance on donor and government relief food slowly became a thing of the past.
Aram Nyaga a farmer, in the area, says he can now harvest at least ten tonnes of mangoes every season.
Nyaga also diversified to passion fruits, papayas, butternuts, lemons, oranges and also keeps cattle, goats and chicken.
Catherine Kabuthi, the project programme coordinator Order of St Augustine Ishiara Parish, confirms that by 2016 they no longer gave food aid to the community.
“We now focus on capacity building of farmers on climate-friendly agriculture and agroecology. We also support farmers to invest in rainwater harvesting, storage, conservation and post-harvest management,” Kabuthi says.
According to Joseph Njiru, the local administrator Ciangera sub-location, his office has not issued government relief food since 2016. He attributes this to the introduction of irrigation farming by the government, through the Upper Tana Project.
Now the big challenge is controlling pests and diseases.
According to Martin Muthengi, an agronomist in Tharaka South, given that the area is arid and hot, pests and diseases tend to thrive there.
“Some of the common pests in the region are mealybugs, aphids, thrips, whiteflies, the fruit fly. The diseases are powdery mildew, leafspot and lust. To control such, he recommends use of fungicides, pesticides and biological control.