- Category: News and Highlights
Agriculture contributes about 24% of Kenya’s GDP, yet, over 80% of the country can be considered arid and semi-arid. Variability in weather caused by climate change has resulted in a fragile ecosystem that is not able to support sustainable production of food. There are several strategies that have been put in place to mitigate and facilitate adaptation to climate change with regards to food production. Top on the list is to increase the area under irrigated agriculture. The government has invested on rehabilitation and expansion of irrigation with the aim of bridging the gap of 1.085 million ha by the year 2030. The irrigation potential for Kenya is estimated at 540,000 ha. About 106,600 ha are under irrigation, that is 20% of the potential area. Large commercial farms cultivate 40% of irrigated land; government-managed schemes cover 18%, while smallholder individual and group schemes take up 42%. These sentiments were shared by KIPPRA’s Executive Director, Dr John Omiti, as he made introductory remarks at a “Roundtable on Food and Nutrition Security: The Role of Irrigation”. The event was held at KIPPRA's office, Nairobi, on Wednesday, 31 July 2013. The roundtable convened senior officials from the National Irrigation Board, Kenya Water Towers Agency, Kenya Agricultural Institute (KARI), Unifresh exotics, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya National Federation of Agricultural Producers (KENFAP), Nature Kenya, Egerton university, Kenya Rural Roads, Kenya Forest Service, University of Nairobi, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries; Agriculture Development Corporation, Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA), Sasini Ltd and Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA).
A careful appraisal will be needed to determine the best alternative to meet the food demand through irrigation. A choice is required between opening up new schemes and improving the performance of existing schemes.
i. Infrastructure: In the past, support infrastructure required to sustain the operations of the schemes such as provision of cold chain, storage and rural feeder roads was not adequately integrated in the total investment cost.
ii. Soil health: There is need to account for the soils health during the production cycle. Important aspects include: fertility, siltation and soil chemistry/physics.
iii. Environmental consideration: Most projects will be implemented in ASALs and delta which are highly fragile. Some of these ecosystems provide important environmental services, ‘biodiversity hotspots’. Implementation of these projects will therefore mean balancing the economic, social and environment aspects.
iv. Capacity building: Capacity development for irrigated agriculture in Kenya has always suffered from lack of targeted extension services. This is because training is normally provided by personnel of the Ministry of Agriculture who are general practitioners and trained on rain-fed agriculture.
v. Coordination: Up until 2003, the Irrigation and Drainage Branch was hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture. This changed with reforms in 2003, with the department moving to the Ministry of Water, and upgraded to a full-fledged Department. Although this helped streamline the water services provision, capacity building, especially for agronomy and other biological aspects of irrigated agriculture, has continued to be offered by the Ministry of Agriculture, livestock and fisheries creating difficulties in coordination.