1.Agriculture and the national economy

Kenya is, and will be in the foreseeable future, an agro-based economy which heavily relies on agriculture for strong performance and improvement. Agriculture directly contributes 24% of gross domestic product (GDP) and a further 27% of GDP indirectly through linkages with the manufacturing, distribution and service related sectors. Kenya’s aspirations as espoused in the Kenya Vision 2030 (KV2030) depend mainly on agriculture. Unreliable rainfall patterns in the country, however, have increasingly been and remain a serious threat to both crop and animal husbandry in Kenya. One of the major mitigation measures against this threat is irrigation development for both crop and livestock production through cultivation of fodder crops. Catchment rehabilitation and regeneration alongside irrigation development and expansion will therefore be key planks of enhancing Kenya’s resilience to climate change while supporting the realization of the economic growth targeted in KV2030.



The National Water Master Plan of 2013 estimates Kenya’s total irrigation potential at 765,575ha (1.9 million acres) determined through a water balance study, including potential water storage development. Out of this, only 141,900 (350,000acres) had been developed by 2010. This translates to some 18.5% of the available land for irrigation. This implies that 81.5% of Kenya’s irrigation potential still remains unutilized thus denying the country the possible economic benefits and associated multiplier effects throughout the economy. The distribution of this irrigation potential and development, by basin, is presented in Table 1 below:
Table 1:    Kenya’s Irrigation Potential and Actual Development
Tana         226,224                         64,425                      161,799                                  71.5%
Athi           91,006                         44,898                        46,108                                   50.7%
Rift Valley    101,753                       9,587                          92,166                                  90.6%
Ewaso Nyiro North    49,379            7,896                          41,483                                   84.0%
Lake Victoria North    170,789          1,876                          168,913                                98.9%
Lake Victoria South    126,424          13,218                        113,206                                89.5%
Total                        765,575        141,900                        623,675                                81.5%

From the table, the national balance of undeveloped irrigation potential is 81.5% while that of the Lake Victoria Basin (North and South) is 95%.
2.    Why irrigation?

Whereas the role of irrigation in transforming agricultural production has traditionally been underplayed, recent statistics show that although the developed irrigated land covers only 1.7% of total arable land in Kenya, it contributes between 10% and 15% of total GDP directly, provides the bulk of the value of all agricultural produce and generates a significant portion of foreign exchange earnings through the export of fresh flowers, horticulture and vegetables. The contribution of the multiplier effects of irrigated agricultural production to the GDP is yet to be quantified but it is expected to be greater than the direct contribution. It is instructive that the direct contribution is contributed by the 18% or less of the total development potential. It can therefore be inferred that with the investments in water harvesting, water storage and irrigation infrastructure leading to full development of the available national irrigation potential, the direct and indirect contribution to total GDP will be substantial.

Secondly, irrigation and its expansion in Kenya, as has been the case in several countries in the world, are driven by the objective of attaining domestic food security, utilizing emerging opportunities for agricultural exports thus generating foreign exchange, creation of employment opportunities, providing a reliable supply of raw materials to agro-based industries thus creating a favorable environment for such investments, improving the purchasing power of rural communities thus establishing new economic centers and generally facilitating the improvement of socio-economic indicators in the areas where the projects are located. For these reasons, the Kenya perspective of irrigation and its expansion falls under the KV2030, which in its macroeconomic strategy for long-term development, incorporated rehabilitation and expansion of infrastructure as a key pillar.

Third, world statistics have shown that irrigation enables farmers to improve their yields three to fourfold, holding all other factors constant. This means that by investing in irrigation, a farmer who normally gets 20 bags of a certain crop per acre of land would be able to realize between 60 and 80 bags of the crop from the same piece of land. This is because irrigation enables controlled supply of water in a way that maximizes yields by supplying adequate water and stressing the crop as appropriate. Irrigation also lends itself to crop intensification and higher investment by farmers on production since the risk of crop failure due to lack of soil moisture is completely eliminated.  

Fourth, only 17% of Kenya’s land mass is arable. However, over 70% of Kenya’s population lives on this portion of the land mass, increasingly putting pressure on it. This has led to sub-division of land to very small pieces per household that are uneconomical production units when practicing conventional rain-fed agriculture. Coupled with impacts of climate change, the production levels on Kenya’s arable land cannot be sustained both in the medium and long terms. It is therefore not surprising that the world has observed that poverty and food insecurity situation in Sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya included, can only be addressed through investments in irrigation.

3.    Approaches to irrigation development

There are three main approaches that have been adopted to facilitate irrigation development in Kenya. These approaches are government-led, community-led and private sector approaches.

3.1    Government-led approach

This is the approach adopted by the government at the national level where irrigation projects are identified, planned and executed in order to achieve the objectives set out in national policies and programmes. This approach tends to focus on desirable long term outcomes that are important at the macro-economic level. State agencies such as National Irrigation Board and the regional development authorities were established to deliver on this aspect of irrigation development that enabled the state to control the pace of such development to meet national objectives. These projects, therefore, essentially are large scale irrigation projects, i.e. they are generally more than 500ha (1200acres).

However, the two have traditionally adopted different implementation and management approaches with National Irrigation Board developing projects for individual small-scale farmers while regional development authorities developed projects for own production. Recently, the National Irrigation Board has adopted a shared management arrangement with farmers where the Board is responsible for service provision on the operation and maintenance of the large infrastructure while farmers organize themselves and take full responsibility for all production activities and the operation and maintenance of the minor infrastructure. On the other hand, some Authorities have also come up with projects that empower communities such as the Kimira –Oluch Project being implemented by the Lake Basin Development Authority.

3.2    Community-led approach

This is the approach adopted at the County and Sub-County level where communities identify their need for irrigation projects then approach the ministry responsible for irrigation at the County or Sub-County level for support. Communities may also approach Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) or bilateral or multi-lateral partners for support in the preparation and implementation of such projects. Such projects tend to be of small size, generally not exceeding 100ha (250acres). In most cases, the projects that are selected for support are those with modest investment costs with those that require extensive infrastructure works being left out. They are therefore found mainly in areas where water supply infrastructure does not require extensive civil works or costly pumping. Another characteristic is that after completion of project construction, management of the infrastructure and all production responsibilities are handed over to the farmers. 

3.3    Private Sector Approach

This is the approach adopted by large private firms or individuals who engage in irrigated agriculture purely as a commercial venture. The farms tend to be large in size, technologies applied tend to be new and production is managed professionally at all levels. The crops produced depend on specific targeted markets either in major towns or other countries. Government is involved only when carrying out licensing or other regulatory or advisory functions. Farms developed by the private sector tend to be strategically located to facilitate easy delivery to target markets. Such farms are common around Naivasha, Nairobi, Thika and Nanyuki.

4.    Developing irrigation in the lake Victoria basin

As shown in Table 1, Lake Victoria Basin accounts for almost 40% of the country’s total irrigation potential and 45% of the undeveloped potential. Considering the basin alone, 95% of its assessed potential has not yet been developed. There is, therefore, significant opportunity for irrigation development within this basin. However, for this potential to be harnessed there is need to consider the following factors so that the most appropriate approach to development is adopted, where necessary, on a project by project basis. These factors include:

i.    Location of the target areas making up the 297,213ha (734,414 acres) i.e. knowing exactly where the irrigable areas are. This calls for mapping of the totality of the potential. This is the most critical of the planning process because without it, one would be driving the irrigation agenda blind.
ii.    Status of land consolidation, land size, land ownership and land tenure system i.e. can the project be attractive to the private sector?
iii.    Purpose of project i.e. social safety net or commercial intervention.
iv.    Investment costs i.e. who can realistically finance the project.
v.    Size of project i.e. can farmers effectively manage it on their own.
vi.    Suitable crops, market demand and ease of access to markets i.e. how will the operations be sustained?
vii.    Role of stakeholders at the various stages of the project cycle including the national government, county government, farmers and farmers’ organisations, various private sector players and other partners. 

The importance of mapping and developing this potential can be well appreciated when the potential benefits are quantified and put in perspective. For instance, if it is assumed that a medium value crop such as paddy rice will be grown on the whole potential, the annual revenue generated by the primary enterprise at 150% cropping intensity will be some KES 88 billion. The multiplier effect within the mini-economy in the Lake Victoria Basin would be massive, if a direct relationship is assumed between the amount of revenue generated and the multiplier effect in the mini-economy. If the multiplier effect seen in Wanguru Town and the satellite centres depending on the Mwea Irrigation Project which generates annual revenue estimated at some KES 2 billion, the KES 88 billion will completely turn around the economic fortunes and food security outlook of the basin.

However, to realize these benefits, there first must be investments. Investments in project preparation and infrastructure, investments in people through training, capacity building and extension support, investments in creating market linkages and investments in confidence building. The investments required will not be available to any one stakeholder as at now, whether national government, county governments, development partners or even the private sector. There is therefore opportunity for synergising of all these actors to meet the desired goal. This will start with the planning process, mapping the stakeholders, identifying roles and creating synergies.

5.         Opportunities for linkages
In order to develop the potential in the Lake Victoria Basin, there are opportunities for linkages that need to be taken in order to make this objective a reality. The opportunities are in the areas of financing, water resources, operation and marketing.

5.1    Financing

Implementing disaggregated projects that will make up a total irrigable area of 297,213ha will require sustained massive investments in studies, water catchment rehabilitation and protection, water storage facilities and irrigation and drainage infrastructure. This will therefore require the preparation of a common plan for development of the potential where each financier can chip in with support. The national government, county government, beneficiaries, development partners, the private sector and other stakeholders can then contribute to the common plan in a manner that result in a win-win situation for all parties. For example, a private sector player can invest in the construction of a factory to process produce from the irrigated area while the national government can finance the major infrastructure with the county government financing the minor infrastructure and a development partner supporting capacity building of beneficiaries etc. 

5.2    Water Resources

Water is a shared resource which in most cases will have competing uses at points along the basin and between different reaches of a river. In almost all cases, places where water storage reservoirs are located are not the ones targeted to benefit from the stored water. This normally results in some form of conflict. In order to make and develop this potential, synergy will have to be created between the county governments and opinion leaders at the various reaches of the rivers involving the packaging, negotiation and delivery of tradeoffs that make everyone see how they will benefit from the resulting projects. Synergy will not be limited to the county governments but also include the Water Resources Management Authority and the national government.

5.3    Operation

Once the projects are implemented, it is expected that farmers will take over and engage in best management and production practices. However, because best practices of today may be bad practices of tomorrow, there will always be need to create synergy between research institutions, extension services and beneficiaries so that it becomes realistic for farmers to attain good yields. With agriculture being a devolved function while irrigation is still essentially a national government function, there must be synergy between these two levels of government to ensure that farmers get useful and timely information. Synergy will also be required for operation and maintenance activities between the national government, farmers and the county governments. Private sector involvement through contracting will also be an important consideration.

5.4    Marketing
This aspect is the most important to the sustainability of the development programme. By synergizing with major players in the marketplace, the profitability of the farming enterprise can be more or less assured. Stakeholder mapping and analysis will therefore be a key activity during programme and project preparation for such a development.

6.    Conclusion
In conclusion, it is clear that there exists great potential for transformative irrigation development in the Lake Victoria Basin. It is also clear that developing this potential will completely turn around the socio-economic situation within the basin. However, the challenge will be how to achieve the change from potential irrigation to developed irrigation area. The answer to this is synergy among all stakeholders and the creation of win-win platforms for all involved.

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