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4.5 Water Augmentation -- Laikipia District, Kenya
This case study describes the experiences gained during the
planning and implementation of a rainwater harvesting project at three
locations in Laikipia District of Kenya (Sipilili, Olmoran and Machunguru
Locations). The project demonstrated that a well-planned rainwater
harvesting initiative can bring about sustainable development in
communities in an isolated and marginal area, far from riverine water
The Laikipia District lies on the leeward side of Mount Kenya and has an
annual average rainfall of approximately 700 mm. Rain falls in two
distinct seasons, known as the long rains and short rains. The area is
categorized as semi-arid. The communities in the three locations comprise
subsistence farmers growing crops (mainly maize and beans) and keeping
livestock (cattle, sheep and goats). There are frequent droughts,
resulting in frequent crop failures and decimation of the livestock herd.
Prior to the initiation of the rainwater harvesting project, most of the
people living in the three locations did not have access to clean water.
The only source of domestic water was from earth dams situated far away.
The dams were also used for livestock watering. There was considerable
soil erosion arising from inappropriate farming practices, resulting in
heavy sedimentation in the dams. These factors rendered the water unsafe
for human consumption. The heavy sedimentation also reduced the volume of
water in the dams to such an extent that there were times when water was
not available, even for domestic use. The dams had to be desilted,
manually, every third year, which placed a tiresome burden on the
Further, many households had no pit latrines and the level of basic
hygiene was low. The lack of availability of safe water, low levels of
nutrition and poor health status resulted in an overall situation at the
homesteads of dependency, desperation and insecurity. Many of the
subsistence farmers abandoned their plots and went to urban centres in
search of employment.
In the light of these circumstances, the Laikipia West communities in
1985 requested the Church of the Province of Kenya to initiate a
community-based resource mobilization project. The project is still
operating, and, apart from its own activities, has worked in partnership
with the Ministry of Health's environmental hygiene programme, the
Ministry of Agriculture's soil conservation activities, and the United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-supported Pastoral Water Programme,
as well as with other, similar initiatives.
Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) was used as the means of initially
identifying the major problems. The exercise involved the villagers, and
pointed to the need for a human-centred approach in which peace, security,
improved quality of life, preservation of the environment, justice and
democracy were important elements of development. From the PRA, it became
evident that the type of land use and farming practices in the area were
unsuitable as they resulted in serious soil erosion, gully formation,
general land degradation and inadequate agricultural production to sustain
the families. Water was identified as the top priority among the
communities, the traditional sources being too distant from the
Women were spending considerable time in fetching small quantities of
water, which had been rendered inadequate through drought and unsafe
through pollution. Assessments showed that other sources of water such as
groundwater were inaccessible at great depth and often saline. It
therefore was necessary to design an alternative intervention that was
based on both social and technical considerations.
In this regard, rainwater harvesting was considered a feasible option
which addressed not only water supply issues but also other areas of
social and economic development, such as the improvement of health and
agriculture. The concept of rainwater harvesting was not new to the
communities as many homesteads were already using household utensils to
collect drinking water from rooftop catchments, and a few had developed
techniques for collecting runoff water for use in irrigating their home
gardens. However, only 25% of homesteads had corrugated iron roofs
essential for roof catchment water harvesting. It therefore became
necessary to gradually develop additional techniques to provide water for
The water augmentation programme began by introducing 200 l drums and 2
500 l water tanks for collection of roof catchment water. Based upon the
demonstration of the potential of these small containers for rainwater
harvesting, the communities decided to venture into large systems, and, by
the end of the project, they had constructed several 10 000 l ferrocement
tanks to capture and store rainwater.
The extension strategy adopted involved provision of technical advice
which included, for example, advice on the calculation of the correct
volume of tank in relation to the roof area and the amount of expected
rainfall. Training was also provided in construction techniques such as
determining the proper material mix, the slope of the gutter and the
provision of splash-guards. Thereafter, the villagers did the actual
construction. Both men and women participated in the programme. Women
built the tanks on site while men were more interested in being trained in
the techniques of tank building. One outcome of the project was that it
promoted gender-balanced participation in the planning, as well as in the
construction and maintenance, of the water facilities.
This technology is described in Part B, Chapter 2, "Domestic Water
As previously noted, other measures were also implemented during this
programme. Laikipia is a semi-arid district, and soil moisture is the most
limiting factor in crop production. Supplemental moisture, therefore, is
necessary to ensure a harvest. Farmers were encouraged to practice runoff
farming. The technique involved directing runoff from roads and upper
slopes into groundwater tanks or directly onto the gardens for
macro-irrigation using bunds made of soil and stones. Farmers were also
encouraged to practice soil conservation, to establish tree seedling
nurseries, and to plant trees around the boundaries of their farms, along
the contours, and around their homesteads. They were also encouraged to
plant communal and individual woodlots. Planting vegetative cover along
soil conservation bunds was also promoted. These practices are reported to
have increased food production on a sustainable basis.
These technologies are described in Part B, Chapter 1, "Agriculture."
Extent of Use
Maize production was increased as a result of improved land use and
runoff farming techniques. In the Machunguru area, for example, yields
were 8 bags of 90 kg each (720 kg) per acre prior to the initiation of the
project, while, today, good farmers can attain yields of 20 bags (1 800
kg) per acre. The additional maize stover produced is fed to livestock
during dry periods.
Prior to the water augmentation programme, vegetables were not grown in
the area, but were obtained from Nyahururu and Nyandarua some 100 km away.
Improved land use and runoff farming techniques have enabled vegetable
production to meet household requirements and provide surpluses for sale
to augment household incomes. In addition, farmers have diversified their
crops from the traditional maize and beans to include potatoes, carrots,
onions, soya beans, millet, bananas and fruit. This diversity has
contributed greatly to food security and balanced diets.
Likewise, prior to the water augmentation project, the semi-arid area
had very few trees, the original trees having been cut down for building,
charcoal burning and for fuel wood. As part of the development package,
the project encouraged production of tree seedlings and planting of trees
within homesteads, along farm boundaries and contours, and in farmed
woodlot, as well as afforestation on communal hilltops. Enterprising
farmers derived considerable income from the sale of seedlings.
Operation and Maintenance
A number of in-ground storage tanks were built by the community to take
advantage of, and maximise, the efforts made toward, and the benefits
from, soil and water conservation in the District. Runoff water from
roads, the upper reaches of slopes, and rooftop catchments was directed
towards these tanks. The water so harvested had various end uses,
including vegetable production and livestock watering.
Although the programme was centred on the provision of water, the
project had some spin-offs and positive effects on other sectors of
community development. This is attributed to the fact that members of the
community were interacting continuously in a participatory manner,
exchanging ideas and learning from each other. In addition the existence
of an organized community made it easier for extension services from other
agencies to deliver advice.
Effectiveness of the Technology
The use of contaminated water resulted in an high incidence of
water-borne diseases. Stomach and other gastro-intestinal ailments were
prevalent. Costs for medical treatment for a family were as high as Ksh
700 per annum ($15, or one month's wages for an average Kenyan).
Availability of clean drinking water from the rooftop catchments reduced
the incidences of these diseases, resulting in fewer sick days, increased
economic activity of members of household, and savings in medical expenses
which could be redirected to other household expenses.
It was also
observed that increased levels of food production, accompanied by crop
diversification, reduced the once prevalent high levels of malnutrition.
Households had improved calorie intakes and more varied diets than was the
case before the project was initiated.
Further, the number of households with corrugated iron roofs increased
from 25% of homes to 70% of homes during the 10 year period. At the same
time, the number of houses with sufficient rooms to accommodate family
members, and those showing other improvements, increased from 40% to 70%
of housing units.
As in the case of water supplies, the availability of toilet facilities
is essential to maintaining the public health. The numbers and types of
latrines built were continuously monitored during the project period.
Within the project area, the percentage of simple pit latrines doubled,
improved latrines tripled, and VIP latrines rose from zero to 24% of
The performance of this project can be measured by its outputs and the
benefits it brought to the communities. In all cases, the approaches taken
and technologies used during this project were not only suitable for the
area in which they were applied but they were also successful in achieving
the broadly-based goals of the programme under which they were carried
out. The key achievements can be summarised as follows:
- Approximately 1 000 tanks of various types and sizes were built by
the communities, with technical advice and essential material assistance
provided by the project, providing approximately 9 600 people with
access to water.
- A significant number of households became involved in various rural
development activities that did not exist in the area prior to the
- The percentage of households involved in vegetable growing, tree
planting and seedling production, and home improvement activities
increased from zero to 100% (vegetable growing); 90% (tree planting);
50% (tree seedling production); and 70% (home improvements).
||No. of tanks built
||No. of people served
Further Development of the Technology
Several independent evaluation teams state that, after 10 years of
implementation, the program has considerably improved the living standards
of the communities, with regard to water availability, public health
improvement, farm management, and overall socio-economic status of the
people. The project was planned and implemented in such a manner that the
activities initiated should be self-sustaining, replicable and
Rolf Winberg, Swedish International Development
Authority, Post Office Box 30600, Nairobi, Kenya.