The soil in Maragua, Murang’a County is currently parched as it last rained in October last year. A seasonal river where farmers used to pump water from during the dry season has long dried up.
However, despite the gloom, some farmers are not bothered by the failure of the rains.
Ephantus Ndooka and Josephine Wanjiku are among those whose farms are teeming with lush green crops amid the desert conditions.
Their crops are doing well following their investment in water pans, which are storage structures dug in the ground to retain surface runoff as well as water collected from the rooftop during the rainy season.
To make the pans, the ground is excavated to leave embankment walls all round. The pan also has spillways and silt traps along the inlet channel to filter excess sediment load.
At the base it is lined with an ultra-violet treated polythene liner to prevent percolation of water into the ground.
The farmers draw water from two pans, one with a capacity of 110,000 litres measuring 14 by 7 metres and a smaller one measuring 7 by 7 metres hosting 50,000 litres of water.
Both are two metres deep. Ndooka, who lives in Ngaaini village, excavated the pan in 2004. “It is near his house so that it is easier to harvest water,” he says.
The farmer uses drip irrigation to grow the crop, thus utilising water efficiently.
He planted tomatoes on eighth acre in February when most farmers could not because of the dry spell. Months before he had harvested onions from the land earning some Sh18,000.
EMBRACE WATER PANS
His Tylka F1 tomato variety has now started fruiting and Ndooka expects to harvest 20-25kg per tree, which he sells at Sh30 a kilo.
“I normally water the crops in the evening for an hour so that the plants can take in as much water as they can. I used to do it during the day and I realised that a lot was evaporating,” he says, adding he likes farming during the dry season because prices are better as supply is low.
Some miles away in Matanya village, Josephine grows sukuma wiki (collard greens) on quarter of acre. “Very few farmers still have sukuma wiki on their farms. I sell them at the market at Matanya centre for much more than I can make during the rainy season,” says Wanjiku, who made her first pan in January 2014.
She sells vegetables worth at least Sh1,000 every day since there is little competition.
“But during the rainy season when there is glut, I barely sell sukuma wiki worth Sh200,” says Josephine, who waters her crops using a horse pipe.
Inside the water pans, the farmers rear tilapia that also feeds on mosquito eggs curbing spread of malaria as they get additional income from the delicacy.
Fred Kihara, the Africa Water Fund advisor for The Nature Conservancy, says some 250 farmers in Maragua are currently growing the crop using water from pans.
“If farmers embrace water pans, then we would not be experiencing high food prices during the dry season.”