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Enhancing water management in Kenya’s drylands

Climate-smart solutions

In Kenya, farmers are being trained in land restoration techniques such as the cultivation of fruit tree seedlings to increase tree cover on farms

© James Karuga

by James Karuga

Land restoration

Across sub-Saharan Africa, an integrated development programme is implementing land and water management interventions to enhance productivity and food security.

In the arid counties of Kitui, Machakos and Makueni in Kenya, over 30,900 smallholder farmers have adopted climate-smart farming methods to conserve water, restore degraded lands and fight food insecurity. Since 2014, a Dryland Development Programme (DryDev) has been working in the country, as well as in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali and Niger, to help farmers shift from traditional subsistence farming and reliance on emergency food aid, to sustainable rural development. The climate-smart land and water management practices introduced by the project include agroforestry, tree regeneration and the use of water harvesting ponds. Since the start of the project in Kenya, over 8,900 ha of land has been rehabilitated.

DryDev has trained farmers in how to increase tree cover through farmer-managed natural regeneration practices. Methods include pruning and thinning live indigenous tree stumps that still have some sprouts, to stimulate growth. As the indigenous trees regenerate, the land around the trees develops vegetation, and soil fertility is enhanced. Farmers are also intercropping nitrogen-fixing legume trees and plants like Gliricidia sepium and Faidherbia albida. The extensive root system of legume trees improves soil structure and ensures it doesn’t harden in the heat, meaning rainwater is able to infiltrate the soil.

On his 0.3 ha piece of land, Urbanus Mutune from Machakos county has dug terraces to capture rain water and a large water harvesting pond with the capacity to hold around 500,000 l. Mutune uses the water harvested from his pond to irrigate his high-value tomato plants. “These days, without relying on rains, I can grow my crops according to market demand,” says Mutune, who estimates that his yields have increased by over 80% since adopting the DryDev methods in 2014.

Rainwater harvesting and agroforestry practices have also changed the fortunes of Magdalene Kimeu from Machakos. Prior to the project, Kimeu was only able to grow traditional staples like maize and beans during the rainy season; now, she cultivates pawpaw fruits, collard greens, china cabbage, pepper, passion fruits and onions. The cultivation of pawpaw trees provides shade for her horticultural crops and reduces water evaporation following irrigation. “Neighbours now consult me on climate-smart farming and how they can be food secure like me,” she Kimeu, who earns at least €13 per day from the sale of her horticultural produce and fruit trees.

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