Harness rains to boost irrigation farming in dry areas

Water flowing from a water tank in Kaptembwa, Nakuru County. [David Gichuru, Standard]

The initial El Nino rains have started pounding many parts of the country and it is essential that the government and individuals take advantage by harvesting and preserving the waters to support irrigation farming.

A report by the Review of Irrigation Development in Kenya reveals that only 17 per cent of 582,646 km2 of Kenya's land area is classified as medium to high potential land with more than 700mm of rainfall per year, which is suitable for rain-fed agriculture.

This confirms that the remaining land mass is classified as arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) and cannot be relied upon to support rain-fed agriculture unless advanced technologies are used to carry out irrigation and harvest water to augment optimal crop production.

This is why the government should not spend too much energy and resources to warn people -especially those in potentially flood-risky areas-to find safe grounds, but more importantly allocate adequate resources to harvest El Nino waters. These efforts will yield more food production and as a result, ensure food security in the country.

As a country, we rely on agriculture, which plays an integral role in our economy. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, agriculture contributes up to 33 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and another 27 per cent of GDP indirectly through linkages with other sectors. Additionally, this sector employs more than 40 per cent of the country's total population as well as more than 70 per cent of Kenya's rural people. This shows that we have the potential to produce more food, increase incomes, and create more job opportunities if we tap El Nino rains.

National and county governments should collaborate and invest in long-term agricultural technologies and modern water harvesting systems to make use of the arid and semiarid lands. El Nino should serve as a wake-up call and motivate effective future preparation to harvest every drop of rain. This move will reduce pressure on the land parcels in the areas of high agricultural potential due to a constant increase in population as this is negatively affecting food production. It is estimated that Kenya's population will hit 81 million people by 2039.

It is imperative for both governments to forge meaningful partnerships with investors to boost food production by converting ASALs into productive farms. This will attract willing investors who will in turn bring on board advanced farming technologies that will lead to increased food production in the country. The trickle effect will be a healthy nation and the majority of people will lead improved lifestyles.

Moreover, the government ought to provide incentives and subsidise farm inputs to enable the farmers already carrying out irrigation to cover more land and produce more. Incentives and subsidies will reduce the cost of production and enable the farmer to allocate more money to purchase modern equipment that will increase production. As a result, more job opportunities will be created and surplus farm produce will boost incomes as well as increase government revenues.

Finally, the government should negotiate both regional and international markets for our farm products. This will remove market barriers and poor pay to the farmers.

-Mr Jomo is an Editor, AR Films