You in my shoes: A farming transformation through water harvesting ponds


By Bancy M. Mati, Resource Plan Ltd

Future museums

They used to say that by the year 2050 children would be taken to museums to see what poverty used to look like. But, 2050 is now just around the corner and poverty is still with us. Although there are international commitments (such as the SDGs) and national and local efforts to address this challenge, we are not close to eradicating poverty.

There are many forms of poverty that affect many different people: the unemployed, poorly paid wage earners, small-scale subsistence farmers and herders, fishers, people living with disabilities, children, men and women. But, let us visit a small-scale farmer living, working and deriving a livelihood in a climate-vulnerable, dryland environment – the type that covers some 65% of Africa.

This is your life

You were born and brought up here, in this dry, dusty village where rainfall is celebrated because it brings life to the land. You went to school but due to various hardships, all you have is a basic education. Like all your fellow villagers, you are a small-scale subsistence farmer growing crops like maize, cowpea, pigeon pea, sorghum and a few fruit trees, mostly mango, which can survive here. But, crop failures are more common than harvests, due to drought and prolonged dry spells which cause crops to wither. Despite these challenges you are here to stay because this is home and this is where your heart is. You are cheerful by nature, so you take challenges in your stride. You would like to do better with the small parcel of land you call your farm. You know of a neighbor who irrigates parts of their land, grows all sorts of wonderful crops, yet has no river or a well. They are using a new technology learned out there.

Time to learn new things

One Sunday, an announcement is made that there will be people from the Ministry of Agriculture coming to train farmers on water harvesting. You decide to attend this training the very next day, at the neighbor’s farm. The people from the city arrive and teach you how to harvest rainwater, how the farm ponds are dug, how they are covered with a special membrane to reduce water losses and how to use that water for irrigation. They even tell you how you will make so much money from irrigating crops you never dreamt could be grown in your area. You decide that this, indeed, is what you would like to see. You decide to give it a try. But, there is a hitch. Much as you are ready to dig the water harvesting pond, you do not have money to buy the plastic liners and other irrigation gadgets.

The farming transformation

Undeterred, you go home determined to make a change. You call in the agricultural advisors who survey your dry farm and advise you on the best place to dig your water harvesting pond. They even measure it for you.  You get a loan-in-kind from the bank. This loan is not money, but a plastic liner used to cover the pond (after all, you would not know where to buy it, or which one is the right type, or the right fit). So, you dig your pond which measures approximately 12 m long, 9 m wide and 3 m deep. Then you get the plastic liner, put it in place and you are now ready. You also ask the agricultural advisors what to grow, and are advised on the production of vegetables other farmers are growing and how to access markets.

When the rains come, you are surprised your pond fills within the first three showers. You store the water and grow high value vegetables (onion, tomato, green beans, watermelon and other types of fruit), even when there is no rainfall. You sell the vegetables and pay the cost of the plastic liner within two crop seasons. For once you sell farm produce on a regular basis.

Here to stay

Within five years, you have regular income which is traceable to your irrigated crops grown with water stored within the farm pond. Your family also eats a balanced diet every day and your cows have drinking water and are well fed, giving you more milk to sell. You are earning more than the village teacher and have enough money to build a better house for your family. You have become an experienced and inspirational farmer and a local trainer in farmer-to-farmer forums. You receive many visitors to your farm who ask for your advice on different techniques. For sure, you are here to stay.

Here to stay: A farming transformation through a water harvesting farm pond for crop irrigation.

This blog is informed by a technological innovation in Kenya that involves the construction of water harvesting farm ponds for crop irrigation, supporting sustainable agricultural intensification, food security and climate resilience. The water harvesting ponds are one of three innovations highlighted in a new CoSAI report, ‘Investigating pathways for agricultural innovation at scale: Case studies from Kenya,’ which also shares lessons learned from innovations in solar-powered irrigation and blended finance.

Learn more about the CoSAI Innovation Pathways study, with case studies from Kenya, Brazil and India.


The views expressed in this blog are those of an individual researcher and are not necessarily supported by CoSAI.