National Irrigation Board is a state corporation through the Irrigation Act CAP 347 of the Laws of Kenya which is mandated to develop, control and improve  irrigation schemes in the Country.

Eng. Raphael Ogendo the Deputy General Manager in charge of infrastructure at NIB shared his views on the state of irrigation in

Kenya and the projects the Board is undertaking to improve food security in the country.

Tell us who you are. (Introduction & professional background)

I am Eng. Raphael Ogendo. I am the Deputy General Manager in charge of infrastructure and Irrigation Development services at NIB. I am a professional in Agricultural Engineering through the University in the option of Soil and Water.


You have spoken about infrastructure; tell us in brief what kind of infrastructure are you referring to as far as NIB is concerned.

Here at NIB we do infrastructure for irrigation. Our role is to ensure that we expand area under irrigation in line with the Big Four Agenda specifically on Food Security. This involves doing designs for projects that ensure water is availed from the source through systems of conveyors to our farm land for irrigation purposes.


So the infrastructures we are talking about are intakes along our rivers to obstruct water. We are talking of pipelines and canals all the way from the intakes to our farm lands. These farm lands grow various kind of crops be it horticulture or food security crops such as maize and beans.


Tell us about the mandate of NIB and a brief history of irrigation in Kenya.

Basically NIB’s mandate is to develop and modernise irrigation schemes across the country. With the new Act which rebrands NIB to National Irrigations Authority, we now have the  mandate to be everywhere in the country as opposed to before where we were operating within the seven public schemes. These are the likes of Mwea, Perkerra ,Ahero, Bunyala and so forth.


These schemes were gazetted and we are operating within them. But now with the new Act, our mandate has spread all over and now we are in the 47 countries and we shall be working with the new Act in collaboration with our county governments to develop irrigation in Kenya.


Our role is to ensure that the schemes that are in bad shape are rehabilitated and to expand and construct new schemes to serve our farmers.


Briefly elaborate further the changes that this new Act introduces and how this favours NIB and its mandate.

The act gives NIB an expanded mandate and now we have the full mandate and we are the major stakeholder to control and manage irrigation development in this country. The Act also defines the role of the National government in implementation of irrigation programs and the role of the county governments. Actually the National Government cannot operate alone because these projects are being implemented in the counties.


The Act also recognizes what we call Irrigation Water Users Association as legal entities who can be sued or sue. So these are some of the key highlights but there are many others.


The counties will be doing small projects up to 100 acres and then above this NIB will come in in collaboration with the County Governments.


The Act also recognizes the representatives of the Irrigation Water Users Association and also the representatives of the county governments in the board. So once decisions are made, these representatives will be part of it and hence they will be easily implemented and owned.

So the council of Governors and the farmers will pick two representatives each to the board which is in charge of giving policy direction to the management.


Briefly highlight a few projects under NIB and their impact to the food security situation in the country.

Before 2011, the land under irrigation was about 397, 000 acres. That was what had been developed by that year. In 2012, there was a new program which we now call National Expanded Irrigations program.  Through that program, from 2011 we have been able to increase an additional 130,000 acres of land under irrigation; currently we are working to make it 500,000 acres. We continue to implement this program at a rate of about 30,000 acres per year.


The schemes that we have been able to complete are over 200 covering the 130,000 acres. Those schemes are of various scales, small scale as low as 50 acres to large scale schemes. Right now we are expanding Mwea and we want to add an extra 10,000 acres so that the total area under irrigation will be around 25,000 acres and doing a double crop that would be 50,000 acres per year. We expect with that kind of expansion, rice production will be doubled and that will go a long way in reducing the amount of rice that is currently being imported thus saving on revenues.


What will be your comment on Kenya’s potential in irrigation with regard to the amount of rainfall we receive and the water sources we have?

Currently the potential of irrigation in Kenya stands at 1.2 million acres that is using service flow. What we mean by service flow is using rivers, water that flows above the surface. But we can go up to 2.5 million acres using both ground water and surface water and also storage from dams. So we have a long way to go. It tells of what is required to be able to exploit the full potential of our land that is suitable for irrigation.


What kind of technology has NIB place while executing   its mandate?

We have put emphasis and focus on water saving technologies as this water is being applied. What I mean here is that most of these rehabilitations and development of schemes is geared towards improving the efficiency of water conveyors that is where we lose a lot. So we are converting these systems from open canal systems into piped systems so that we do not have much lose on conveyors, distribution and application.


We talking of Centre Pivot systems like the one we are using in Galana and drip irrigation systems which are highly water efficient and also the general sprinkle. So we are really trying to save water so that more of it is used at crop land level.

So our engineers are up to tasked and we have trained them to catch up with the newest technologies in the market.


What are the main challenges the Board is facing while executing its mandate?

The biggest challenge that I can mention   we are facing today especially as we are implementing Mwea , Bura and Turkana Areas is land acquisition. And you know land is a very emotive issue and the donors don’t deal with issues of land. When they come with their funds they just allocate money for construction. So the government of Kenya has to raise money to acquire this land and this is a process which is very delicate and which involves inter-communities.


So acquisition has delayed most of our implementation programs because of disputes.

We are also having low funding levels. There is a time this institution used to receive substantive allocation but because of dwindling resources, the budget is normally cut and what we receive is what we normally have to go by.

As much as we have our annual targets to achieve, we are not able to achieve that because sometimes you have the exchequer budget but there is not actual flow of money that we can use to pay our contractors. If we do not pay our contractors there are litigation issues, claims and such kind of things.


We also have a challenge with the low adoption rates of our farmers; they need a lot of capacity building to reach some certain level.  Like some of these technologies we are talking about like drip irrigation, you find that our famers are not conversant with and they need intensive training so that they can be able to catch up. Water wasting methods such as flooding and so on are what they are used to yet as NIB we really want to make  irrigation water efficient so that we can be able to cover more area at the same time providing enough water to sustain crop growth.


Engineering being a key in development of irrigation infrastructure, what do you think are some of the opportunities and expected growth areas for engineers in the industry?

The field of engineering is quite open and is about the use of the latest technology and also the use of digital industry to improve. For example, sometime back in surveying  we used to have equipment that we would spend so many days i9n the field, but now we have modern equipment and we are able to survey a very large area within a short period of time. We were still engineers then but we did not have this kind of technology. As we move on, technologies keep on improving and we shall get technologies that will render what we have now obsolete.


As engineers we also have a continuous training development program. Our engineers at NIB must take the program, they have complied with the law, you cannot practise here without being registered with the relevant bodies and we are talking about the Engineers Board of Kenya and the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. Actually 80% of our engineers are already registered and have complied and are practising as per the law. The other 20% are still on training because as you graduate from the university and join NIB we train you since you have just done the academics from the university and when you come here you come to practise. So you undergo a 3year on job training so that you are able to be independent after you register.  So before you register you are a trainee and the other registered engineers assist these trainees to be registered within 3 years or so. So that is something this institution continues to do.


What are your thoughts on quality of training for Engineers in Kenya?

Our universities as they stand we know the changes that they have. The challenge of big numbers in these institutions. When I was at the university at that time, we used to be as few as 20 in a class. And Engineering we expect to be practical one has to be exposed to the engineering instruments and understand them. So if the equipment is not enough you expect this will affect the quality of training.


But generally saying the Kenyan Universities producing Engineers have tried their best and that is why when you finish from the university we do not call you engineer , we tell you that you have been given power to read and when you come out here you have to undergo various training so that we can now accept you as a material who can now practise with independence.  Without that you cannot sign any documents, no engineer who is not registered can be able to sign any design but they  can be given assignments to carry out under the supervision of a registered engineer.


So generally the quality is not bad, graduates have the basics but because of big numbers and overloaded teaching staff, the quality may not be as required but that is a question of the universities to sort out. But when they bring graduates out here and tell us they are qualified, we train them.


Briefly give your general comments of a word of encouragement to people who want to get into engineering and specifically Agricultural Engineering with regard to matters to do with education?

I would use encouragement. Engineering is a profession of exactitude. It is a profession where guess work can lead to disaster but you will enjoy it once you are properly devoted and committed. All it requires is that dedication and passion for the work.


So there is a lot of work, you do not need to be necessarily be employed by the government, you can practise on your own if you go through the procedures and processes. You may not want to be knocking at the doors but you just need to follow the procedures, get registered and there you are. It is the same for any engineering profession and not only Agricultural Engineering.


Actually the majority of engineers in this institution are Civil Engineers because there are so many structures we are building out there. Our other engineers are responsible for estimating water requirements because our engineering is geared towards supplying water to the crops. So with combination of these engineering professions we are able to package acceptable designs that are implementable and to use that to expand the area under irrigation.


So if we could get all those resources, proper training and also increase the farmers capacity, we shall be able to achieve more in this country.

So mine is to urge the policy makers that the only way to go for Kenya is to develop irrigation and not to depend on natural inflow.


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