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How prudent water use can ease pain of drought

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A tractor prepares a rice field at Wang’uru area in Kirinyaga county in readiness for planting season in July. FILE PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NMG

As the world continues to grapple with the effects of the changing weather and a sixth failed rain season in Kenya, scientists are coming up with a new technology to help in water conservation to minimise wastage of the little that is available.

Dubbed Climate Smart Water Management and Sustainable for Food and Agriculture (WATDEV), the Sh1 billion initiative is aimed at promoting the efficient use of the resource through the best management project. 

WATDEV project, which comes at a time when the weatherman has warned of depressed rains in the ongoing main season, is geared towards building sustainability of agricultural water management and resilience of agro-ecosystems to ensure economical use of this key resource by cutting on wastage,

The Kenya Agriculture Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) says studies which they have conducted show there is no correlation between the output of a drop of water and what farmers get in terms of productivity.

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“So much water is used on the crop but we produce so little, that is why we have come up with this project to address this challenge,” says Michael Okoti, assistant director in charge of environmental sustainability and climate change research at Kalro.

WATDEV has come up with a technology that will guide farmers on when and how much water to apply on their farms with the aim of minimising wastage.

The technology uses colour codes ranging from red, yellow and green, which will guide growers on when and how much water to apply on their farms.

For instance, when the colour code on the farm shows green, a farmer would know that the water levels are okay, when it is yellow, they will know that they need to wait for some days before applying, but when it is red, a grower will know that the crop needs water urgently.

Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), which is leading the project in the region, said Kenya has made strides in terms of the development of water best management practices.

Executive director of ASARECA Enock Warinda said WATDEV will collect, analyse, and implement available best practices and innovations in study areas and simulate their impact scenarios with the use of models and knowledge accumulated in regional water studies.

“The increase and sustainability of agricultural water management in the project will be achieved through national ministries and research institutions improving knowledge and management on the water in agriculture through sustainable solutions,” said Dr Warinda.

The technology ensures that water is only applied on the farm when it is needed and it curbs excessive use of the resource, hence helping in preserving the little that is available.

Kalro has already established this project in the drier regions of Hola and Bura where at least 1,500 will benefit.

“The Tana River ecosystem has the potential to contribute to food security although it has challenges that need to be addressed such as nutrient and water insufficiency,” said Dr Okoti.

The scarcity of water and dry conditions severely compromise agricultural production and food security in Kenya, a country that relies on cross-border imports to meet the annual food requirement.

Agriculture Principal Secretary Kello Harsama said the country will work closely with ASERECA to improve water efficiency in a bid to boost productivity.

“The government welcomes the project initiatives of attaining the goal of food and nutrition security through the implementation of best management practice and the involvement of the local stakeholders that will enhance sustainability beyond the project,” said Mr Kello.

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Kalro says it will also intervene in the efficient use of water on crop varieties such as rice and cotton which are doing well in Bura and Hola.

These crops, especially rice, use a lot of water as the field where they are planted requires flooding for them to thrive.

Already, a climate-smart rice variety that does not require flooding fields has been established and is currently being grown in Hola and other parts of the country.

ASERECA says the project’s mandate is to come up with clear best management practices for the utilization of scarce water and that they want to see farmers benefit from this technology that has proved to have the potential to conserve this key resource.

Dr Warinda said the new technology will enable small-scale farmers to get good use of limited water and produce food even in drier conditions.

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