In Summary
  • Farmers in the region embrace rainwater harvesting technology to produce and sell food throughout the year.
  • The use of water retention technologies such as the polythene sheeting enables farmers to conserve the available water and this ensures that their harvested water lasts longer and that farmers get more value out of their investment
  • In Makueni County, farm ponds are evenly distributed across the lowlands and Mbooni highlands where they have created a thriving community of French beans farmers who farm throughout the year.
  • To ensure that the pond loses as little water as possible, it is designed deep and covered with an extensive net to minimise water loss through evaporation.

Visitors driving along the all-weather Makindu-Athi Kiaoni Road, which links Makueni and Kitui counties, always look in wonder at the village’s leafy green crops in the sun-baked region.

This is especially in Kilongoni village in the leeward side of Kilema hill, where like an oasis in a desert, Musyoka Kivungi’s farm stands out.

The farmer grows fruits and vegetables irrigating the crops using surface runoff that he usually collects into a sprawling pond in his homestead whenever it rains.

Ukambani receives between 500 and 800mm of rainfall annually, according to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA).

Seeds of Gold finds the senior Makueni county government official inspecting an onion crop that was ready for harvesting.

“Our resolve was to make this place habitable. This has been attained and surpassed since we now grow cabbages, sukuma wiki, okra, tomatoes and onions all-year round,” Kivungi, the chief officer at the county’s department of devolution, tells Seeds of Gold.

Kivungi’s work on the 12-acre farm, which is always a beehive of activity, entails closely supervising workers, who at any one point are either preparing seedbeds, installing nurseries, translocating seedlings, weeding various plots or harvesting produce.

On average, he harvests 25 tonnes of onions per acre making a tidy sum from each harvest as a kilo goes for up to Sh80, a feat which he credits on the readily available water, suitable soils and hard work.

Traders from Nairobi flock his farm for the commodity, with the remainder being bought by small traders who deal in vegetables.

Kivungi taps surface runoff from a road that passes near his farm, using a rudimentary canal that directs the water into the pond on his farm. The water passes through three small ‘check dams’ to prevent the silting of the main dam.

To ensure that the pond loses as little water as possible, it is designed deep and covered with an extensive net to minimise water loss through evaporation.

“My pond is 30 metres by 25 metres and is 14 feet deep,” he says, noting the water harvesting technology is called farm pond.

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From the pond, he pumps the water through a pipe to the several plots hosting different crops including okra, fruits and vegetables throughout out the year. The crops are irrigated using a drip system.

The rainwater harvesting bug bit Kivungi in 2014 after the county government took hundreds of farmers and government officials on a benchmarking mission at Bishop Titus Masika’s model farm in Machakos.

The cleric, who is credited for transforming dozens of homesteads in the semi-arid Yatta in Machakos County into food secure zones through an aggressive rainwater harvesting campaign, embarked on farming after he retired as a secondary school principal.

He has been enlisted in a rainwater harvesting campaign that brings together Makueni County government, national government agencies such as Micro Enterprises Support Programme Trust (MeSPT), NDMA, micro-finance institutions and multiple non-governmental organisations.

Wanza Muindi is another farmer who has adopted the water-harvesting technology.

She taps water from Kwa Ikombi stream, which snakes through the village overlooking Mbooni Hills, and uses it to grow French beans and bananas throughout the year.

Muindi is a teacher at Muthwani A pre-school by day, and a farmer by night, owning a pond on her farm like dozens of her neighbours.

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