Evaluation of Technical and Economic Performance of Smallholder Pumped Irrigation Systems

Stanley Njenga Kang’au


Pump fed irrigated agriculture has been on the increase particularly in the arid and semi arid regions of Kenya. Smallholder farmers practicing irrigated agriculture apply water to supplement the scarce and unreliable rainfall common in these areas. However, smallholder pumped irrigation systems is faced by many challenges such as lack of appropriate skills during irrigation system selection, design and operation as a result of inadequate technical assistance. Other challenges include lack of appropriate irrigation system components matching farmer’s needs, high operation costs, low water use efficiency and labour intensive irrigation activities. The end result of these challenges has been poor smallholder irrigation system performance. It is therefore imperative to investigate the causes of such challenges and offer possible solutions in order to improve pumped irrigation system performance as well as make it more profitable. This research was carried out in semi arid areas of Yatta and Kakuzi divisions which are in Yatta and Thika districts respectively. The research entailed evaluation of the smallholder pumped irrigation systems used in terms of their technical performance, economic viability and the related agricultural water use. The challenges encountered by the smallholder farmers are also documented. Finally an ideal irrigation design system was developed.The study methodology involved observational study as well as field transect walks to identify the farming systems, irrigation technologies used as well as their adoption rate. Socio - economic surveys using semi structured questionnaires were done covering 80 smallholder farmers. Detailed study was carried out in 10 sample farms where technical performance of pumped3irrigation systems was evaluated as well as agricultural water use efficiency. An ideal irrigation design kit suitable for smallholder pumped irrigation system was developed. The results of the survey found out that there was high uptake of pump fed irrigated agriculture with over 80% of the sampled farmers practicing supplemental irrigation. 94% of the smallholder farmers surveyed were found to use furrow irrigation methods. Only 2% used sprinkler irrigation while none used drip irrigation. Farmers used small motorized pumps to pump water and either conveyed it using pipes or canals for gravity fed systems.Main challenges facing smallholder pumped irrigated agriculture can be grouped into 5 categories such as lack of information, high cost of running irrigation systems, laxity on the government side, overreliance on traditional irrigation methods and water shortage. The problem of lack of information in market needs for agricultural produce and market prices of the produce, irrigation system component selection, design and operation and amount of water needed for irrigation was noted. High cost of running the irrigation system due to high energy cost (as cited by 65% of the respondents) and high cost of other agricultural inputs was noted. The laxity of the government in providing experienced technical assistance to the farmers particularly during irrigation system component selection, design and operation (as cited by 73% of the respondents), and unregulated water use with only 5% of the studied population having been issued with water permits was noted. 79% of the respondents revealed that there was shortage of irrigation water particularly during the time of high demand of the agricultural produce. Water shortages could have emanated from use of traditional irrigation methods such as furrow irrigation and lack of modern irrigation techniques at farm level.


Full Text: PDF