Business & Economy

Irrigation revolutionizes agriculture in Kenya

By Pablo Moraga

Rutune, Kenya, May 24 (EFE).- Gilbert Murioki proudly observes two sprinklers as they pump water on plants at his farm, acknowledging it is a common method in many Western nations but rare among farmers in Africa.

“I used to even have trouble eating every day. But things have changed since installing an irrigation system. My production has increased a lot,” Murioki tells Efe at his farm in the tiny central Kenyan town of Rutune.

The 56-year-old Kenyan farmer says he has used the extra profit to pay for his children’s school fees and to renovate his house.

He has even managed to stash away some cash, something he was never able to do when he relied on rain to water his crops, which include cabbage, tomatoes, green beans and coffee.

Murioki is one of 500 farmers in Embu county who have benefited since 2019 from a program of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a United Nations specialized agency that promotes agriculture productivity and economic development in rural areas.

Hence, Murioki is considered lucky in Africa, where estimates by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) show that up to 95% of agriculture production depends on rain.

“A farmer is a person who plays a very important role,” Murioki says, stressing that all people depend on farmers’ products since waking up in the morning.

“That means you cannot live without a farmer,” he adds.

According to IFAD figures, 70% of the food consumed in Africa comes from small farms.

But, according to Murioki, the Kenyan government has “abandoned” small-scale farmers as many of his neighbors still rely on inconsistent profits to improve the productivity of their farms.

Although sub-Saharan Africa has about a quarter of the world’s arable land, it barely generates 10% of global agricultural production, according to IFAD.

Without machinery, genetically modified seeds, irrigation systems and modern fertilizers, farmers do not get the most out of their lands, something that often leaves millions with empty stomachs.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that a third of children in neighboring Uganda, a country with 43 million people and an agricultural potential that could feed 200 million people, suffer from delayed growth as a result of their poor diets.

For months, farmer Mercy Kamau would get up early to irrigate her farm with the groundwater extracted by her sprinklers and listen with concern to some of her neighbors decrying the severe drought that had destroyed their crops because they did not have irrigation systems.

“People were starving. They even had to ask for loans to be able to eat, while the children had to go far away to find water to use at home,” Kamau tells Efe.

Kamau’s crops were like a green oasis in the middle of a landscape that turned bleak amid the worst drought the Horn of Africa has endured in the last 40 years.

According to IFAD, the climate crisis has highlighted the need to invest in small farmers, who without agricultural inputs or irrigation systems are extremely vulnerable.

These investments have changed the life of Eric Wachira, a 28-year-old who could not make ends meet before benefiting from an IFAD program on the outskirts of the central city of Karatina.

Today, his income has grown sixfold.

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