A man manually drains water out of rice seedlings in a nursery at Okana Irrigation Scheme [Kevine Omolo, Standard]

In recent months, drought has wreaked havoc in the country leaving about 5.3 million people in need of food aid, and millions of animals dead. This phenomenon is not likely to end tomorrow. It is therefore prudent to rethink how we use water as we seek ways of remaining food secure.

It is against this backdrop that I came up with tips I believe could help farming communities.

Water is a critical resource

Water is the most critical resource for development. The effects of this resource can be felt not only in agriculture, but everywhere around us and, most critically, on the environment. In the areas that rained recently, what did we do with the water?

The climate change menace and consequences related to water resources include an increase in temperature, shifts in precipitation patterns, forest cover losses, and a likely increase in flooding and drought frequencies, thus affecting agriculture. But who cares?

Freshwater is a scarce commodity

Scarcity of freshwater: with 97 per cent of our water in oceans, freshwater accounts for only about three per cent of the water available for agriculture and other needs. This freshwater is the lifeline for forests and crops.

With about 60 per cent of the precipitation returning to the oceans, freshwater is under pressure from the increasing population. So what are the solutions in a Kenyan setting?

food security without compromising on sustainable goals?

One answer to the conundrum is to research, innovate and disseminate knowledge to our farmers to optimise the interaction between variables like nutrients, water, and inputs. Sustaining agriculture with an increasing population and with existing or reduced water resources is the mantra.

Adoption of best irrigation practices

With a dwindling supply of water for irrigation, proper technological, resource, and application management are needed for the efficient use of the commodity.

Sustainable water management in agriculture can be achieved by: reduction in water loss, use of efficient irrigation systems, adoption of innovative irrigation methods, efficiency in fertiliser application, and reuse of treated marginal waters (saline water, wastewater, and runoff water) for agriculture.

Improve agricultural practices

Improper soil management, indiscriminate fertiliser application, and overuse of agrochemicals are connected with sustainable water management and contribute to deteriorating groundwater.

Some efforts in these areas will go a long way in achieving sustainable water management for agriculture:

Tilling practices. Soil surface tillage, contour tillage, and conservation tillage result in reduced erosion, improved hydration of soil, and maintenance of soil organic components.

Mulching and increase of organic matter in the soil. Advantages include the conservation of soil moisture, improved soil fertility, and reduction in weed growth.

Embrace water conservation practices on-site and off-site. With a majority of our farming still dependent on “traditional beliefs,” it becomes important to conserve and harness this important (though erratic) resource.

Agricultural use of water can be conserved on farms through landform management, direct seeding of water-intensive crops, and encouragement for farrow management.

Off-site conservation of water for agriculture can be through water harvesting, recharge of aquifers, and storage. Water harvesting and small water storage interventions have a major role to play in the improvement of water availability, especially in areas that depend on rain-fed crops.

Policy intervention and integration

The complex and diverse nature of water resource management in Kenya’s agriculture means that there should be flexibility in water policy according to situations and regions.

More flexibility is required with water property rights and a robust framework is needed for sharing of water amongst states with supporting infrastructure.


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