Western Kenyan farmer Japheth Owidi was dependent on seasonal rice because he used a treadle pump and fossil fuel pump, which are not cost-effective and labour-saving. But all of that changed when he started incorporating a solar-powered pump.
The positive results are also noticeable in his books as one harvest can generate up to 113,600 KES ($1,136). “All the greens you see growing on my farm, they’re here because of the pump,” says Owidi who plants kales, tomatoes, spinach, beans and local vegetables as part of his horticulture ventures.
Joab Osewe, who has a tree nursery, added another source of income and witnessed an increase in his profit after substituting buckets and a treadle pump for the solar-powered pump. The extra income from coriander, carrots, and kales, allowed him to raise over 50% of the number of seedlings in a year.
Osewe says he found it challenging to meet the demands of his clients when using the previous irrigation methods. But the solar power pump has multiplied his income, thus allowing him to start constructing a new house, meet his clients’ demands and satisfying his customers.
Sustainable irrigation options
Futurepump was founded in July 2012 and manufactures solar powered water pumps for the irrigation of small-scale farms with two-acre farms using the company’s SF2 model or one-acre farms through the SE1 model. The pumps are portable, compact designed, and sold with the assistance of local distributors based in 25 countries, including in the East African region.
“Solar-powered water pumps assist small/medium scale farmers by giving them a sustainable option for irrigation,” explains Helen Davies, the marketing and communications manager at Futurepump. “They replace either hard manual labour of physically carrying water to every plant for irrigation or … expensive and polluting petrol and diesel pumps.”
The solar powered pump converts energy from the sun through solar panels to lift water from water bodies. This pushes the water upward to containers and for instant irrigation using sprinklers, drip systems, flooding of the land or moving hose to each plant.
“The prices are fairly high for small-scale farmers. Some distributors we work with can offer the pumps on finance plans which helps with the affordability as the savings from the pumps should pay back the loans,” Davies says. The SE1 costs $535 and SF2 is sold for $678, excluding taxes, import charges, and shipping fees.
More time tending to plants
John Owade’s experience is similar to that of Owidi and Osewe. “With the petrol pump, I couldn’t afford to irrigate my whole [two-acre] farm. I was going to have to remove [half an acre of] the bananas. Now I have actually expanded my farm,” he says.
Owade, who is also situated in Western Kenya, operates his solar pump for six hours daily, supplying sufficient water for the growth of his tomatoes, bananas, and livestock. He says after using the solar pump he recorded a 400% increase in the first tomato harvest.
For some like Rosemary Migisa – who owns a 2.5-acre farm and produces maize, beans, and tomatoes – the pump has availed more intimate time to interact with her plants as it can be set to automatically irrigate plants.
“The solar pump has been a great help; we can now spend less time watering and more time tending the tomatoes and ensuring maximum productivity,” says Migisa, adding that she managed to harvest more than 500kgs of tomatoes each week over eight months from her three greenhouses.
State and challenges of Kenya’s modern irrigation system
Edwin Kimutai Kanda and Valery Osimbo Lutta, from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya, explored the current state and challenges of Kenya’s modern irrigation systems. “As of 2018, the developed irrigation schemes [in Kenya] covered an area of 222,240 ha, which is 16% of the irrigation potential of 1.34 million ha,” explained the authors in a research paper published in March this year.
The key challenges are technical, socio‐economic, and institutional. The authors outlined poor water quality and infrastructure as well as water scarcity as some of the main technical challenges, while one notices inadequate credit facilities, high costs of modern irrigation systems, and market inaccessibility.
Institutional factors consist of a lack of engagement by farmers such as women farmers in the policy-making and implementation processes, ineffective irrigation water user associations, and pluralistic legal frameworks.
Despite all of these challenges, there is room for growth. “In Kenya, there is potential to expand investment in modern irrigation systems,” said an FAO 2015 irrigation market brief, adding that since Kenya is a water-scarce country, there is a need to consider the environmental sustainability of agricultural investments.