Drought and how Kenya Farmers Cope

While the stories splashed on the international media about the drought situation in Kenya, Tanzania and other parts of the Horn of Africa make for depressing reading, there are small-scale farmers in some of the traditionally drought-ravaged parts of Kenya that are proving that this is problem that can be solved permanently. Unlike their neighbors who rely on relief food, these farmers not only grow enough to feed themselves and their families but even have surplus to sell. Of Kenya’s 47 counties, Makueni is one of the counties that have traditionally relied on relief food. Farmers in this county (like most in the rest of the country) usually rely on rainwater but rain in Makueni is simply unreliable and drought is inevitable every few years.

Rainwater harvesting
The fortunes of a few lucky farmers in Makueni have been turned around by the support they get from the World Food Program (WFP). As of 2017, the WFP is working with close to 50,000 small-scale farmers to encourage them to participate in activities that promote farming in dry lands. Through this program, the farmers are given a monthly food ration while they participate in a wide range of dry farming activities which basically try to harvest the rainwater that has previously been going to waste. Such water is harvested using farm ponds which provide a steady supply of water when the dry season sets in.

How it works
Famers are encouraged to dig ponds on their farms and use them to harvest rainwater. Once water has collected in the pond, it is pumped into a raised tank (using a hand pump – and therefore lack of electricity is not a hindrance). Once in the tank, the water is fed onto the farm using gravity and used to irrigate the land by use of drip lines. This simple yet ingenious method of making use of water that has previously gone to waste has proved capable of ending the misery of frequent droughts that have afflicted farmers in the arid and semi-arid areas of Kenya. In the Makueni program, for example, it has been found that a pond that holds as little as 250 cubic meters is capable of irrigating more than a ¼ hectare of land and be sufficient to raise horticultural crops that are normally ready for consumption in about 3 months.  A larger pond, if properly constructed to safeguard against the loss of water through evaporation, is capable of holding enough water to last through a dry spell until the next rains come. Such ponds could therefore provide a permanent solution the perennial water problems.