Small-scale farmers in Kenya are gradually moving away from rain-fed farming, which is affected by drought, and embracing irrigation technologies to increase their revenue and yields. This is an industry trend at Davis & Shirtliff, which provides irrigation technologies and water solutions.
Smallholder farmers in the country are rapidly adopting affordable and efficient irrigation technologies, such as drip irrigation. Davis and Shirtliff Group Technical Director Philip Holi attributes the shift to a growing awareness among farmers about the advantages of irrigation in increasing crop yields and ensuring food security.
According to Holi, governments and non-governmental organizations have played a crucial role in promoting irrigation through training, subsidies, and other support mechanisms, thus contributing to this positive trend.
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Holi, while speaking during World Food Day in Nairobi, touched on the importance of increased investment in water harvesting, storage, and distribution infrastructure to make sure there is a reliable water supply for farming.
He also said practices like agroforestry, conservation agriculture, and using drought-tolerant crop varieties are significant contributors to achieving food security. Furthermore, Holi said training farmers and providing them with access to resources is important because it equips them with modern agricultural and irrigation techniques.
However, despite these positive developments, smallholder farmers in Kenya face challenges like limited access to water, a lack of knowledge about modern irrigation practices, and the cost of irrigation infrastructure.
Small-scale farming in the country significantly contributes to the nation’s agricultural output. It accounts for 75% of the total output and 70% of marketed agricultural produce. Furthermore, these farmers produce 65% of coffee, over 70% of maize, 65% of sugar, 50% of tea, and almost 100% of other crops.
In addition, the small-scale farmers’ operations vary in size from 0.2 to 3 hectares and serve both commercial and subsistence purposes.
Agriculture is identified as a key sector in Vision 2030 for achieving the 10% annual economic growth rate that is envisioned under the economic pillar. Changing smallholder agriculture from subsistence to a commercially-oriented, innovative, and modern agricultural sector is crucial for not only achieving this growth but also for boosting food security in Kenya.
The Kenya Smart Agriculture Strategy 2017–2026 stated that intensified irrigation can quadruple agricultural productivity in Kenya and even multiply incomes by up to 10 times, depending on the crops.
According to the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Strategy 2017–2026, Kenya hasn’t fully utilized its irrigation potential, which is estimated at 1.342 million hectares. Only about 14% of this potential has been exploited.