Farmers in Kiharu, Murang’a county are reaping big from their small plots thanks to a water-saving technique that ensures year-round production.
Residents have now turned to trapping water using water pans, which they then use to grow French beans after every few weeks.
Mr Bernard Chege is one of the producers who ploughs his 18-by-eight-metre plot that now earns him more compared with previous years.
He draws water from a pan just a few metres from his plot. Less than a month away, the beans will be ready for harvesting and delivery to a guaranteed market.
On another plot about six metres away, maize stalks cover the soil a week after harvesting, thanks to the water-saving system.
Be at home
A few years ago, the 42-year old father of three would be at home due to lack of water. He would only return to the plot when the skies had opened up to bring in the much-needed water.
“Maji wakati wa kiangazi ilikuwa kwa uhaba lakini water pans zimetusaidia” (Water during the dry season was scarce but the pans have really helped), Mr Chege says when we visited to his farm last week.
Like his colleagues contracted by Frikogen, Mr Chege digs water pans and seals them using ultra-violet (UV)-treated polythene liners to collect it for irrigation when the dry season hits.
He is currently using two water pans that tap rain water, enabling him to grow beans all year round.
Mr Chege rotates the French beans with maize and sukuma wiki to retain the soil’s fertility. This also provides him with food for family consumption.
In the past, the soft-spoken farmer would rent a 15-square metre plot in neighbouring Gathanji to escape the water troubles back home.
The plots in Gathanji, about a kilometre away, would go for Sh500 per month, further increasing production costs that he could hardly afford.
Mr Chege gets between 150 kilogrammes to 300 kilogrammes per harvest from the plot.
In a year, he can now grow French beans six times, earning him Sh100,000, which he says caters for his family’s upkeep and pays school fees for his offspring.
Mr Chege is one of the 20,000 farmers currently contracted by vegetable processor Frikogen Ltd to supply the produce, which is mainly for export.
Frikogen is supporting the farmers as part of its partnership with the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund to provide access to water for irrigation and promote sustainable practices.
Under the deal, farmers pay Sh750 to cater for sprays and other extension services provided by Frikogen from planting to harvesting.
Alongside his colleagues across Kirinyaga, Murang’a, Nyeri and Laikipia counties, Mr Chege delivers the harvests to collection centres within a three-kilometre radius from farms.
Before he started the contractual farming with Frikogen, he grew sukuma wiki, tomatoes and maize albeit with paltry harvests due to water challenges.
“Kwa usaidizi wa pans, sasa naona naweza kunyunyuziashamba lote” (Because of pans I can irrigate the whole land), Mr Chege says of his plans to increase the area under irrigation on his three-acre farm.