By Eng.Odede of National irrigation Board (NIB)


The agricultural sector has and continues to play a predominant role in influencing Kenya’s economic performance. An assessment of the performance of the Agricultural sector and that of Kenya’s overall performance shows a very strong correlation when analyzed over several years. The influence of the agricultural sector in the economy is multi-level in that it provides employment, food and income at the primary (farming) level.

The second level is in trade and commerce where traders in agricultural inputs, outputs and materials rely on the performance of the farming level. At the tertiary level, agro-processing, manufacturing, value addition and export enterprises come into play with their activities completely dependent on the supply from the farms. It is instructive to note that the first three highest foreign exchange earners for the country are all from the agricultural sector. Agricultural production is therefore a key ingredient in the economic takeoff of the country providing a foundation upon which the transformation of the country’s economy to middle level by the year 2030 will be built.

Investment in agriculture is an attractive and assured way to achieve Kenya’s growth path into a middle income economy for a number of reasons which include:

     a)High employment rate: Agriculture employs large numbers of people on temporary, seasonal and long term basis. When invested in strategically, it can engage quite a large number of the population.

b)Flexibility in space: Agriculture, with all its variants including livestock and fisheries production, can be practiced in almost every corner of the country. Therefore, it can socio-economically empower and uplift populations that would otherwise be unreachable with any other economically empowering intervention.

    c)Multiplier effect: Agricultural production has a very strong multiplier effect on the economy provided production is steady, reliable and predictable. This allows for investment in other sectors such as trade and commerce, transport and communication, finance and banking, industry (formal and informal), health, sanitation, education and other social services, etc. In this way, a single investment in agricultural production to the tune of millions of shillings can generate an economy around it worth billions of shillings.

     d) Distributive effect: Agriculture, through mass employment and the multiplier effect is a very efficient and effective method of distributing income to a large number of people who legitimately earn the money. These start with those engaged on the farm to carry out farming activities to input, materials and equipment suppliers to transporters of traders, workers and goods, to those providing financial services, ad infinitum. The money so earned then circulates within the local economy engaging local artisans (furniture, farm implements, metal work, masons,etc), sellers of consumer products such as bicycles, catering, entertainment, residential housing, accommodation facilities, etc. In the end, so many people get engaged and earn their living because of that primary investment in agriculture, even if they arenot conscious of it. It is for this reason that many towns located within agriculturally productive areas tend to have thriving economies.

Irrigation is the artificial provision of soil moisture to enable plant growth. This can be achieved through a range of interventions from simple ones like manual collection and application of water by water cans to fairly complex ones involving the construction of water storage reservoirs or ground water extraction, large weirs or pumping stations, conveyance systems or pipelines, self-regulating water measurement and control structures and sophisticated application systems among others. The appropriate intervention is determined by a host of factors such as location, nature and condition of the water source, amount of water available, topography, crops, capacity of farmers, soil characteristics, environment, social considerations, etc.

Kenya’s land is predominantly arid and semi-arid which makes it unsuitable for crop production and difficult for optimal livestock production. Fisheries production has for a long time not been considered as a serious economic activity and even then their economic use has been largely confined to the large fresh water bodies and the coast line. 80% of Kenya’s land is classified as either arid or semi-arid which then makes it imperative that artificial water supply to enable crop, livestock and fisheries production is one of the most attractive options to secure the livelihoods of the population living in these areas.  With rainfall becoming erratic even in the traditionally high rainfall areas and existence of pockets of semi-arid areas all over the country, irrigation then becomes a useful tool to ensure that communities are meaningfully engaged in economic production where it is technically, economically and environmentally feasible so to do.

Secondly, empirical studies the world over have shown that irrigation multiplies production per unit of land by a factor of three to four when compared to other methods of production, with all other factors remaining constant. Therefore, from the same area of land, a farmer can realize a three to fourfold jump in yields just by engaging in irrigated rather than rainfed agriculture. In some areas where there is hardly any production because of inadequate soil moisture, this factor could be higher.

Irrigation, as enabler for agricultural production, allows for the most reliable form of agriculture which in turn makes such areas very stable centres of economic growth and stability. This has been well demonstrated by the symbiotic relationship between the economic well being of such towns as Wanguru, Hola, Bura, Ahero, Marigat, and Nyadorera to the performance of the irrigation projects around them.

The Constitution of Kenya places responsibility on the Government to guarantee certain basic rights to her citizens. These rights include food and water among others. The Government therefore has to find ways through which each citizen will be in a position to either buy or produce the food.

Secondly, the constitution recognizes that socio-economic development in the country has not been equitable and requires government to execute affirmative action to redress these disparities. The arid and semi-arid areas form the biggest chunk of the areas that require such affirmative action. Third, the Vision 2030 prioritises irrigation interventions as one of means that is key to achieving the country’s economic pillar.

In the Vision’s first and second Medium Term Plans, irrigation interventions in the lower Tana basin and northern Kenya, including Turkana and the former North Eastern Province have been prioritized as flagship projects. In view of these, the National Irrigation Board (NIB), the Government Agency whose sole role is the development of irrigation infrastructure to enable communities engage in irrigated agricultural production, has adopted a multi-pronged approach to realizing the targets of the Vision while responding to the letter and spirit of the Constitution of Kenya. This approach involves:

i.    Rapid assessment, design and construction of new small scale projects especially in the ASALs through a special programme called the Expanded National Irrigation Programme (ENIP).

ii.    Rapid assessment, rehabilitation and extension of collapsed, incomplete, stalled or underperforming small scale irrigation projects or schemes, especially in Turkana and North Eastern, under the same programme.

iii.    Adoption and execution of river basin approach to master planning of large irrigation projects for the Daua, (North Eastern), Tana  (North Eastern and Coast), Athi (Coast), Kerio and Turkwell (Turkana) rivers.

iv.    Feasibility Studies, detailed design and construction or rehabilitation of medium to large irrigation projects all over the country, with special focus of empowering communities experiencing crop failure due to inadequate rainfall such as in Rahole Canal, Bura, Hola, Mitunguu, KaagariGaturi, Rapsu, Muringa Banana, Katilu, Nyatike,  Kieni, Kavunyalalo, Lower Nzoia, Ahero etc.

The adoption of the multi-pronged approach was to ensure that quick wins for expanding the area under irrigation were achieved as more elaborate basin-wide planning, designing and execution of irrigation programmes were being undertaken.  A list of the ongoing projects in Turkana, North Eastern and Coast Provinces are provided in Table 1. Of all the programmes planned or under execution, the Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project is the most complex, ambitious, exciting and challenging.

The Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project is located in Tana River and Kilifi Counties of the former Coast Province. It involves the planning and development of the 1.75 million acres ADC Galana and Kulalu Ranches with a view to optimizing returns from the vast land belonging to the Government of Kenya through irrigation and other interventions. Irrigation infrastructure development is the key driver to all other envisaged and possible enterprises including livestock, fisheries and tourism. The project seeks to not only facilitate and enhance agricultural production but to also introduce on-site value addition as part of the project’s value chain.  

The project’s conceptual framework is to harness the water resources from the Tana and Athi River Basins for irrigation, livestock and fisheries production on the Galana and Kulalu Ranches. This involves land use planning of the project area to clearly delineate the areas that will be best used for various enteprises or activities such as irrigated crop production (by crop), livestock production (beef, dairy,breeding), fisheries production, industry (post-harvest handling, processing, value-addition), tourism (circuit,hotels,camps, lodges), environmental/wildlife protection, human settlement, etc. The land use plan is being developed on the basis of the soil map of the project area, topography, source of water supply, community interests, threat from wildlife, etc. 

The biggest challenge for the project is water availability and the project is therefore carrying out an in depth study of the water resources available in the Tana and Athi River Basins; the existing water demand; the demand from equally high priority Vision 2030 Projects like Konza City, LAPSSET Project, Machakos City, etc; need for equity in water use along the basins and the demand from the Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project in order to determine the maximum area that can be put under irrigated agricultural production. This area will of course depend on crop choice, the on farm irrigation technology to be adopted, the water conveyance method to be used, the economic viability of each option considered and the possibility of water storage.

Currently, NIB has engaged a consortium of consultants made up of Agri-green Consulting Ltd (Israel) (Lead), Environplan and Management Consultants Ltd (Kenya) and Amiran (K) Ltd (Kenya) to carry out a pre-feasibility study of and plan the project. The pre-feasibility study involves semi-detailed soil surveys, detailed topographic survey and preliminary designs of the most viable option. The preliminary designs will be carried out to the extent necessary to enable quantification of the works for an EPC contract.

The target date for achieving this project is 2017 and, therefore, its realization therefore calls for innovation, precision and drive. 

About the Author

Eng. George Odedeh is the Chief Engineer, Planning and Design of the National Irrigation Board. He holds a BSc Hons in Civil Engineering from the University of Nairobi.

Eng,Odedeh joined the National Irrigation Board in 1994 where he has been to date. He has been involved in the design and/or construction supervision of many irrigation projects including but not limited to the Mwea Irrigation Development Project (10,000ha, Thiba Dam and Sand Trap Dam), the Lower Kuja Irrigation Project (8,000ha and Nyatike Dam), Bura Rehabilitation Project (6,000ha), Lower Sio Irrigation Project (7,000ha), Lower Nzoia Irrigation Project (8,000ha), Kaagari-Gaturi Irrigation Project (7,000ha), Upper Nzoia Irrigation Project (10,000ha), Greater Bura Irrigation Project (140,000ha) and Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project.





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