The KIT project “Smart Water for Agriculture in Kenya” is aiming to improve the water-use of 20,000 farmers by the end of 2019. The goal? Creating better irrigation for farmers and in turn, better food security for the country.
The three-year-old project is tackling an issue at the heart of Kenyan agriculture: improved water-management. It affects more than just farming; with nearly 50 million people living in Kenya the link between the economy, food security, and agriculture runs deep. High-level Kenyan Government support for the project shows just how important this issue is to the arid country: the Kenyan Principal Secretary of the State Department for Irrigation, Fred Segor, has lauded the work of the project; and recent articles in the Kenyan press have praised the extent of its success across the sector.
However the support belies the country’s huge need to improve food security. The government has called it “The Big 4 Agenda on food and nutrition security” and is making it a serious priority. Among other aims, the mammoth-size of the Government’s plan for increasing maize production in Kenya, and the important role of irrigation in the process have received recent coverage.
KIT’s agricultural-development Senior Advisors Laurens van Veldhuizen and Remco Mur are driving the Dutch contribution to the project. Drawing on decades of expertise, they hope to support farmers in developing better resource management. That’s key in a country where around 90 percent is arid or semi-arid land and has highly variable rainfall.
“It is the bottom-up, farmer-led, approach that makes this project relevant and attractive for KIT,” says Laurens van Veldhuizen. “More importantly, the project is working with the small-farmer-irrigation sector in Kenya by strengthening the relevant private and public institutions involved,” he said.
Rather than top-down approaches imposing change, the four-year project is tackling water management at the grass-roots level. With improved access to finance, information, and investment in the sector, the work covers many needs of farmers.
What’s more, it is building on Kenyan farmers’ own initiatives in developing irrigation for agriculture. This people-centered focus also includes strong support for women: at least 10,000 female farmers are being targeted.
After three years, and with almost a year before the project ends, improved water-use and farming seem like they are on the way for the farmers involved. But above the immediate project, the ultimate aim is to help improve food security across the whole country—and the lives of many more people in the process. This is a task that requires millions of people to think and work out a new vision—which is emerging—for the country’s future.
Recent statements by the Kenyan government, NGOs, and the Dutch Embassy in Kenya, make it clear that institutional change can dramatically improve food security in the country. But strengthening support-systems for small-scale farmers—not just large-scale operations—is an area that is vital to the country’s long-term success.