Kenya: Irrigation Project Improving Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers in Rangwe

By Sharon Atieno

Moses Osodo, a smallholder farmer in Kochia, Rangwe sub-county, used to grow maize and finger millet mainly for consumption. Like other farmers in the area, he used to depend solely on rain.

Things changed for him, with the coming of the Oluch project. He is now able to access water to grow horticultural crops including watermelons and tomatoes commercially on a three-quarter acre piece of land that he has leased from his neighbour.

“I am able to get shs. 150,000- shs. 180,000 (about US$ 1222-US$1466) from the sale of tomatoes alone,” Osodo says, adding that removing the cost of seeds, inputs, and land, he is able to realize a profit of shs. 120,000 – 150,000 (about US$ 977-US$ 1222) in a good season.  This is what he relies on to sustain his family of five and other relatives.

Moses Osodo opening a tertiary canal gate for water to reach his farm
Photo credits: Sharon Atieno

David Oyola, another smallholder farmer from the area, grows onions and kale. His farm is located a few meters away from River Maugo, a seasonal tributary of Awach Tende River.

“Before the coming of the project, access to water was hectic. For us to get water we would fetch it from the river. Those with farms far away from the river would have an even harder time,” he says, adding that drying up of the river during seasons of drought was a very big challenge.

Oyola recalls that there was a time his indigenous vegetables dried up on the farm due to lack of water. There was no rain and the river had also dried up. “But now when we have planted our crops, water is readily available even during the drought season,” he says.

According to Oyola, he has seen a lot of benefits since 2018 when he started using water from the Oluch project.

Comparing his profit margin before and after the project, he says, in an investment of shs. 5,000 (about US$ 41) in farming, he used to make a profit of shs. 20,000 (about US$163) but with the coming of the project, he is able to make a profit of at least shs.50, 000 (about US$ 407).

From this, he has been able to build a house for his family of five and bought livestock which supplements his farming enterprise.

David Oyola in his vegetable farm in Rangwe sub-county
Photo credits: Sharon Atieno

Both Osodo and Oyola with their families are part of the 1,334 households benefitting directly from this government-led project in Rangwe sub-county.

Covering 1,665 Acres (666 Ha), Oluch is part of a twin project dubbed Kimira-Oluch Smallholder Farm Improvement Project (KOSFIP).  Kimira in Rachuonyo North sub-county, covers an area of 2,020 Acres (808 Ha).In total, the project covers an area of 3,685 acres (1,474 Ha).

This is part of the 277,765 ha of irrigable land in the Lake Victoria catchment areas that Kenya targets to achieve by 2030 in order to strengthen its agricultural sector and increase its contribution to the economy.

Targeting large-scale (public), small-scale (smallholders) and private irrigation schemes, the country has set a national irrigation development goal of 1.2 Mha by 2030.

According to John Serem, the public relations officer of KOSFIP, the project launched in 2007, is set to benefit 3,000 households directly and over 400,000 indirectly.

“The objective of the project is to improve income levels of rural households and thus reduce poverty,” he says. “We want the farmers to use the water to grow crops for food security and at the same time to sell the surplus for income generation.”

Some of the crops being grown include rice, sorghum, tomatoes, onions, watermelons, bananas and indigenous vegetables among others.

Being that irrigation is still a new concept in these areas, Serem says, they are also working with the county government to provide extension services to the farmers.

John Serem, the public relations officer of Kimira-Oluch Smallholder Farm Improvement Project (KOSFIP)
Photo credits: Sharon Atieno

Making water accessible to farmers

According to the project description, the two schemes were identified during a reconnaissance study carried out in 1985 by a Japanese Consulting firm, under contract with the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA).

The study concluded that both schemes have major potential for small-scale irrigation development based on gravity flow, by using water from the two rivers Awach Kibuon (Kimira) and Awach Tende (Oluch).

The rivers originate from the Kisii highlands, at an elevation of 2,100 metres above sea level (masl) for the 52 km long Kibuon River and 1,900 masl for 49 km long Tende River. The total drainage areas of the two river basins are 760 and 780 sq. km respectively.

According to Serem, weirs have been constructed across the rivers to increase the water level by about 2m. At the sides of it, there are gates that allow water to flow to the main canal. Then from the main canal, there are branch canals that supply water to tertiary canals which pass by the farms.

Weir constructed at River Awach Tende Photo credits: Sharon Atieno
Weir constructed at River Awach Tende Photo credits: Sharon Atieno

The Kimira-Oluch project is subdivided into 97 blocks (53 blocks in Oluch and 44 blocks in Kimira) served by concrete main and branch canals totaling 59.05km. A total of 122km of reinforced concrete tertiary canals have also been constructed to distribute irrigation water within the blocks.

“We have mapped the area to know the size of a plot for each farmer. These tertiary canals go through those farms and each farmer is to irrigate at least 1.2 acres of the farm using this water,” Serem notes.

Additionally, there are ten-night storage reservoirs to store water overnight, so that when farmers are using the water during the day, there will be a continuous supply of water.

To increase access to county and regional markets, the project areas are also served by 35km of all-weather roads which joins a tarmacked highway road from Homa-Bay to Kisumu.

The scheme is about 91% complete though some tertiary canals are still under construction.

Tertiary canals going through farms in Rangwe sub-county
Photo credit: Sharon Atieno
A farmer using water from a branch canal to irrigate an onion farm in Rangwe sub-county Photo credits: Sharon Atieno

Challenges

Oyola‘s farm is not covered by a tertiary canal hence he has to pump the water to reach his farm from the branch canal. A task which he says is costly, as he has to incur fuel cost for the generator. The one and a half acre shamba is irrigated once after three weeks and this costs him about shs. 3,000 (about USD 25) worth of fuel monthly.

On the other hand, Osodo complains of rubbish at the discharge point of the branch canal which lowers the volume of water flowing into the farms on the other side. The farmers often have to manually remove the rubbish for easy flow of water.

He also notes that some farmers keep diverting the water especially if the tertiary canal gates are within their farms. This often means that one has to have extra manpower to make sure that after the other farmers have used the water, the gate is closed to allow water to flow to the farm on the other side.

“It would be better if we could have alternating days for using the water, instead of all of us trying to water our crops almost at the same time,” Osodo says.

So far, the project has cost more than shs. 7.2 billion (about USD 58.1 million) with funding mainly coming from the Kenyan government supplemented by the Africa Development Bank.

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