Proper utilisation of water in irrigated agriculture

Irrigation to reduce poverty in Kenya

Claudia Casarotto
Started by Claudia Casarotto on
27 Oct 2012 at 05:11
Deputy Country Director - Kenya , Innovations for Poverty Action
Know-how: Sustainable Agriculture, Energy, Basin Irrigation, Water

FAO carried out a project in Western Kenya to revive irrigated rice production. After one year of operation of the irrigation scheme, the production levels considerably increased together with the farmers’ income:

Of course, problems are at the horizon: a pressurised scheme requires a lot of energy and rice requires a lot of water. In Kenya electricity used for pumping is expensive and often rationed. When power fails, rice production is at risk. Wouldn’t a gravity irrigation scheme have been more sustainable? Or the infrastructural investments would have been too high?

Also marketing of the produce is an issue: prices are still too high for these rice farmers to compete on the market. How could the Naheru farmers decrease further their production costs and gain better competitive access to market?

Let me know your views!


Matt Van Aardt
Hi Claudia. being Kenyan myself (currently living in South Africa but soon returning back home) I thank you for the work you are doing in Kenya. I understand the need for rice crops in Kenya as this is part of the diet there and also understand the need for a sustainable income for the farmers so support you on this. Regarding the method of water distribution there are several options I've used before. As Michael Wood says Pivot Irrigation is an excellent option but with the downside of requiring power. An option here would be solar power. We are currently in the process of setting up production for very low cost solar power units so in the long term this would soon work for you.
Another option I've used, where the source is a river, is the old fashioned Ram Pump which requires no power and runs 24/7 with very little maintenance required. If your interested let's chat about it.
Marcelo Caio Libanio Teixeira
It´s not a simple question and it requires a complex answer. We cannot understand the whole problem. Why are they cultivating rice instead of other grains? There is rice varieties that need less water and we have used them in Brazil developed by EMBRAPA. But if rice farming is essential for them and they have a problem with energy so we have to choose irrigation systems that use less energy and with more water distribution efficiency. And before go to the action a planning is necessary to match all those variables. What the local or regional market is needing? And when we choose an irrigation system we have to remember that we have to establish a training program to use such complex equipments and to avoid create a external dependence the keep them working properly. I worked at Gorotuba River Valley Irrigated Perimeter at the semi arid of Minas Gerais State - Brazil. They started with gravity irrigation for grains and banana and they improved the irrigation systems to more complex ones. A Central pivot is a good system but you will not need to much labor force and employees. I think we have to consider such aspects.
Yogesh Agrawal
Stephen, why rice is OK. Even Saudi Arabia do cultivation of crops, which require very less water . The rice and other high water consuming crops are imported. Whether Kenya has excess water than its requirement? With increasing population , more and more agriculture land is being used for domestic, commercial and industrial use, reducing the availability of land for agriculture. Similarly availability of water has drastically reduced for domestic and other uses like agriculture. Is it very essential and justified to grow rice ? Whether we want to snatch water from poor people?
Stephen Siwila
I think rice is okay but a gravity irrigation scheme would surely have been more sustainable in the long run.
Michael Wood
I would tend to agree with Yogesh. It comes down to efficency. Rice is a very inefficient user of water resources, unless some of the newer varieties are used. My expertise lies in maize and soya under very efficient center pivot irrigation (which is presently used in Kenya) planted rotationally to preserve soil health. Valmont is proposing a program for small hold farmers on 60 ha center pivot, each farming 2-3 ha. The center pivot can use either ground or surface water and electricity or diesel pumps. Fertilizers and chemigation products can be applied through the pivot itself. Center pivot using groundwater is the most efficient method of applying water we have. There is little evaporative loss and the newest technologies even allow variable rate water application.

The dilema I have, is a good feel for hydrology and groundwater availability. The cheapest and simplest method of getting water for irrigation is to drill for it. We need to convince governments that one of their main support functions, is to be able to supply information on quality and quantity from test wells.
Yogesh Agrawal
I do not know why rice production is being preferred ? Is rice production is essential ? Is the basis is more earning for farmers ? in Kota , Rajasthan, farmers are preferring Soyabeen as compared to rice, as farmers get very good return if they grow soyabeen? If water is in abundence, rice farming is alright. Otherwise farmers or the government may prefer the crops , which require less water , so that there is more production of food grains per unit of water ?
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