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Rains or not, I plant and harvest healthy crops year in year out

By James Wanzala | March 4th 2017
Christine Wangeci posing near her water pan that she uses to farm tomatoes and water melons on her farm in Maragua Ridge,Murang'a County.PHOTO:JAMES WANZALA/STANDARD

While some farmers are so dependent on the rains, others have ‘wisened up’ and realised the opening up of heavens has come unreliable. A small number of farmers from the rocky and dry Kambiti in Murang’a County, are demonstrating that despite the erratic rainfall patterns, it is possible to have a thriving farm year in year out.

Thanks to their smart solutions, while farms in the neighbourhood are still fallow, theirs are beaming with life. Ephantus Muigai’s farm is dotted with healthy maize, rich butter nuts almost ready for harvest, oranges just few months to ripening and healthy looking tissue culture bananas.

“I plant even during the dry season and by the time rains come, my crops are ready for harvest. The best thing about this is that when I take them to the market, I have no competitors so everybody buys my produce,” says Muigai. Few kilometres away from Muigai’s shamba is Mama Mercy Wangeci, equally thriving.

Wangeci grows tomatoes and watermelons on her farm. So what’s the trick? In the wake of climate change that has come with unpredictable weather patterns, the farmers have invested in sustainable agriculture methods. From the huge water pans that store thousands of litres of water to terraces that they have dug on their farms to collect rain water to brilliant water harvesting techniques, these farmers have indeed seen the ‘light’.

Muigai owns two water pans measuring 50,000 and 100,000 cubic metres each and with this he is able to water his crops through out the season without interruption.

When Smart Harvest visited, we found him and his wife watering his tomatoes from the stored water using drip irrigation technology.

“My wife and I used to rely on the rains so much but when we saw how erratic they were, we were forced to think out of the box,” says Muigai. To boost their water supplies, the few times it rains, he harvests the water and stores it in the huge water pans for later use.

For Wangeci, previously she would pump water from the river using diesel pumps but this was expensive since it would consume a lot of fuel.

“I would sometimes fetch water from the river myself when the machines break down. Harvesting was also an issue during rain season since roads were bad. At one time, the farm owner poisoned my tomatoes with chemicals and that is when I had to leave,” said Ms Wangeci, a mother of three.

But thanks to water pans, she now farms without the stress of worrying where the water would come from.

“The water pans help me use the water before it rains and by the time others are planting, I am harvesting and selling,” says Wangeci. She gets her water from her house’s roof, to the water tank then to the water pan by gravity and some from Kambiti water project, which is not however reliable. Another conservation strategy is bench terraces.

“I use terraces to stop soil erosion and conserve water in the farms. When it rains, it goes into the terraces trenches and percolates in the farm later, which is called green water,” says Wangeci.

She stabilises the soil in the terraces using nappier grass or any other grass along the bench terraces. The farmers were introduced to this climate smart way of doing things by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Coca Cola Foundation. So far, 350 farmers have benefited from the project.

“We started this project in 2013. We started showing farmers how to excavate water pans as we provide the liners at 50:50. Now farmers can grow crops sparingly within two months before the rains come,” says George Njugi TNC Field Conservation Coordinator for the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund.

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