Five years ago, Vigurungani community in Kinango sub-county, Kwale County, was solely relying on rain for farming. But sometimes the rains failed to come as expected, leaving their crops to wither. This meant lack of food and income for other necessities.
The drought rendered them poorer, made their lives harder and increased human-wildlife conflicts.
Things however changed for the better when Nyalani dam was rehabilitated. It had been built in 1952 by the British Colonial government but challenging climatic conditions and poor maintenance had made it degenerate.
In 2013, M-Pesa Foundation in partnership with Kenya Red Cross and Kwale County government rehabilitated the dam, and encouraged residents to embrace crop farming.
The giant reservoir with a water storage capacity of approximately 500 million litres is now a source of water for irrigation, domestic as well as for livestock. Thanks to the project, farming is thriving. The community no longer relies on rain and dry spells do not mean doom for their crops anymore.
The community has gone a step further and contributed land for joint farming. This, they say, is aimed at diversifying their crops.
Various crops including tomatoes, onions, watermelons and maize are cultivated on the 170-acre communal land.
Josephine Mamuu, a local resident, said before the dam was rehabilitated, she used to walk for more than 20 kilometres to fetch drinking water at the holes they dug when the dam dried. During such dry seasons, no one thought of farming as it would have been a labour in vain.
“Before the rehabilitation of the dam we used to dig water wells during dry spells. The water was dirty and its scarcity sparked conflict as some people used to steal the commodity from other people’s wells,” said Ms Mamuu.
But all is now in the past. Ms Mamuu, who grows tomatoes which retail at between Sh20 and Sh50 per kilo, says her life and that of her community has been completely turned around by the dam.
“We have also planted bananas which have improved our nutrition. Our lives have changed, we are no longer so poor. Our kids are now going to school and we have even bought livestock using the money we get from the farming,” she said.
She says the main market for their produce are the local people and the village market.
Jullo Magulu, the chairman of Nyalani Cooperative Society, said the region experiences low and erratic rainfall and in sometimes suffers severe droughts.
But with the dam, most of these challenges are now in the past. The community, he said, has planted more than 10,000 trees to help rehabilitate the area. The environment is gradually changing.
“It is no longer a desert as it was. Young men also participate in fishing here. Water is life. By December we will be planting more water melons,” he said.
Although the key setback of water shortage has been largely dealt with, a new set of challenges have cropped up.
Many of the households are still relatively poor and easily run out of money for repairing leaking irrigation pipes.
Another problem is unreliable electricity. Mr Magulu said frequent and long-lasting power outages hamper distribution of water to the farms.
“It has been a month since the blackout. We cannot farm well without power,” he said.
Lack of market for their produce is another challenge they constantly face, leaving them at the mercy of brokers. This deeply eats into their earnings.
“We just sold our watermelons and realised we were oppressed by the brokers as we did not know how to bargain for the right price,” said Mr Magulo.
Safaricom Regional Network Manager Paul Gakiria said the project has not only turned the area into a food basket but is also attracting investors.
“The dam was commissioned in 2014 to supply water. Other investors are here. We have a water treatment and distribution point. The ecosystem has changed and with time we will have a lot of other activities,” said Mr Gakiria.
Kenya Red Cross Community development officer Noel Mbaru said living conditions and levels of sanitation have improved.
“We have a working dam and a treatment facility mandated and being managed by the Coast Water Board. Water access has really improved, “said Mr Mbaru.
He said the society has also engaged farmers in practicing clean and better agriculture.