For five years, Lawrence Wachira has grown fruits and vegetables at a five-acre leased farm in Othaya, Nyeri County.
In a small village near Karima Hills, Wachira has made a name for himself since he started using his motorcycle to irrigate his farm.
He has been a boda boda operator most of his adult life, earning about Sh300 daily. Wachira says lack of land and funds derailed his farming ambition.
“While in the boda boda business, I did all I could to see how I could improve my income using the motorcycle,” he says.
In 2014, Wachira attended a farmers’ field day where he saw an exhibitor demonstrating the use of a pump attached to a motorbike to irrigate a farm.
“I had been to other fairs and never took interest in the talks and presentations. I just bought seeds. But this particular one caught my attention,” he says.
Wachira now grows onions, sukuma wiki, cabbages, tomatoes, capsicum and courgettes on the farm that is near a stream.
During the field day, the exhibitor used a small pump that had been connected to a motorcycle engine.
“It was intriguing. I had never thought of that. The exhibitor gave me information about the pump maker. I travelled to Thika immediately and got the pump at Sh10,000,” Wachira says.
That marked a turning point in his life. The technology has improved his earnings to around Sh150,000 a season.
Before the rider bought the pump, he used a bucket to water his crops. “That was time-consuming. It also drained my energy and income as I had to hire two or three people to help water the land,” Wachira tells Seeds of Gold.
LOW COST OF PRODUCTION
When he is not out on the boda boda business, Wachira is usually at his farm. Upstream, Wachira has built a pan, which he fills with water from the stream.
The water pan comes in handy during the dry season. He relies on gravity when irrigating his farm from the pan. It takes 40 to 45 minutes to fill the 40,000 cubic metre water pan.
The pump is attached to the motorbike engine. The other side of the pump is connected to a two-inch, 40ft pipe which then drains into the pan.
To pump the 40,000 litres into the water pan, Wachira uses just Sh100 petrol. “The water is a lot but the pump is not a fuel guzzler,” the motorbike taxi rider says. But even with this, Wachira has to overcome a myriad of challenges. He laments the high cost of production.
“Pesticides and other inputs cost a lot yet the price of the produce is low,” he says.
As drought ravaged many parts of the country in 2018 and early this year, streams and rivers dried up and Wachira had to act fast if he had to remain in business.
Diversification was the answer. He began growing pumpkins. “Pumpkin production does not need a lot of labour and investment,” he says.
“Pumpkins also do not use a lot of water. Their cost of production is low as one rarely uses pesticides.”
A kilogramme of pumpkin goes for Sh40 and one pumpkin is between five and nine kilogrammes.
The rider now trains locals on using the pump and how to grow pumpkins, fruits and vegetables. He does it for free.
Edwin Mwango, an agricultural engineer, says the motorcycle pump is a good idea as it helps farmers grow crops for food and sale “and balances their finances” as it’s not expensive to buy and operate.
“A motorbike is a multipurpose machine. It can be used for transport or improvised for farming,” Mwango says.
He adds that as global warming takes a heavy toll on agriculture, farmers should embrace water harvesting technologies.
“The water can be stored in tanks or pans. Let them improvise their pumps, depending on their capacity. The water will come in handy when the rains fail,” he says.
He notes that the pump, whether motorbike, electric or solar, can enhance crop production and reduce poverty and hunger.
He advises farmers to ensure the pumps are not leaking when used near rivers and streams.
“River water is used by people, animals, crops and even factories. Let us be mindful of others. We should not pollute rivers with petrol or diesel,” he said.
He called for more uptake of affordable technologies to beat climate change.