Rainwater Harvesting in Nakuru 11/23/10

MoneyMaker display in Nakuru

Only 1/3 of Kenyan farmers have access to a local aquifer to irrigate their crops. So, what can the other 2/3 do to irrigate their crops during the dry season? Rainwater harvesting appears(ed) to be the solution.

In KickStart’s Nairobi office on Tuesday 11/23/10, Aron and I sat down to calculate the volume of rainwater required to irrigate a field during a Kenyan dry season.

Unfortunately, we came to a bothersome conclusion. We found that: In order for a farmer to irrigate 1 acre of their land with 3 mm of water over 90 days (typical growing time) during the dry season, the farmer would need to have a pit to catch rainwater that amounted to the area of about 1/5 of their 1 acre plot. This is clearly a bad conclusion because a fifth-of-an-acre is not only a lot to dig, but it also puts a serious dent in the amount of crops the farmer can grow.

It seemed like designing an effective rainwater harvesting system would be next to impossible.

Fortunately, KickStart’s Nairobi office recently got word that in Nukuru, a city about 150km NorthWest of Nairobi, there are a number of KickStart clients have been using water storage pits to irrigate their crops. Hearing this, Aron organized a trip for us to ‘go out to the field’ to learn how the farmers were irrigating their crops.

Today, Thursday, 11/24/10, Aron and I visited two farmers in Nakuru, Esther Gathoni and Theresia Wangari.

When we arrived to Nakuru, with our driver, Bosire, we picked up two KickStarts sales reps, Robert and Elliot and began our  investigation of Esther’s system.

Esther is a  well-to-do farmer, having not only a drip irrigation system for her greenhouse but also having electricity for her home. Using Robert as our Kikuyo (one of 62 tribal languages) translator, she told us that her storage pit was able to irrigate the tomatoes in her greenhouse in addition to 1/4 of her 1.5 acre plot. To irrigate the greenhouse, Esther, uses her ‘MoneyMaker’ pump to fill a 500 liter storage container which then feeds her drip irrigation system.

Pit to Tank to Drip


In speaking with Esther, we discovered that her water storage pit catches the runoff from the road about 50 meters away. She also told us that the majority of the water she collects in her pit comes from the roads runoff rather than from the rain. Her success got Aron and I thinking.

Also, something interesting about Esther’s pit was that she planted ‘Lynches’, which are a common plant in Lake Victoria, to reduce water evaporation.

Lynches limit water evaporation in her 6 m x 20 m x 7′ pit

After about an hour we thanked Esther in Swahili, “asante sana”, and then concluded our visit with a little photo opp for my school, RIT. The school payed for my trip to Nairobi, so some publicity for the school is the least I can do.

From left to right: Robert, Elliot, Bosire, Esther, me, and Esther's farmhand

We then moved on to Theresia. Theresia is also a woman in her 60s dedicated to lifting her family out of poverty. Having the same storage pit as Esther, Theresia is able to catch the runoff from the road. Since building her water storage, she has been able to grow crops during the dry season to make extra income for her family.

What impressed me about Theresia’s operation, was that she not only used her pit to store water, but to also grow Tilapia fish for sale. She could buy the fish for 10 Kenyan Shillings ($.12) and sell them after ten months for 100 Kenyan Shillings ($1.2).

Theresia feeds her Tilapia

Theresia explained to us that she and Esther learned how to make their storage pits and greenhouse systems from a representative from the organization One World Consulting (http://www.oneworldconsulting.com/).

After finishing the rest of our questions, we thanked Theresia, and left with Boseri to return to Nairobi.

with Theresia

In the car ride back, Aron and I mused about the ways farmers could divert runoff during the rainy season. We also speculated the ways in which sales reps could help farmers in setting up their new water catchment systems.

Today was a special day. I came to understand why the founder of International Development Enterprises, Paul Polak, wrote in his book, Out of Poverty, that one of the most important steps to designing technologies to lift farmers out of poverty, is to meet these people in person. Many farmers in the developing world are very clever and are able to use their limited resources to find ways out of poverty. Our role as the social entrepreneur, is to learn what these fortunate farmers have discovered and apply our Western knowledge of mass production and marketing, to disseminate their solutions to help the other 800 million out of poverty.

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About walkadm

I am an MS candidate is Science and Technology Policy. I have founded two startups in emerging markets; the first was in clean generation; the second is in smarter meter - the second has raised its first round of investment. My research focuses on agriculture and energy technology in emerging markets; inclusive business models; and entrepreneurship theory - my thesis concerns the dichotomy in survival rates between B2B and B2C startup copmanies
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