Tapping into the opportunities offered by implementing circular economy principles in the irrigation sector in Kenya

Looking at the current water stress in Kenya, it is becoming increasingly clear that having strategies in place to ensure that water is used sustainably, is no longer “nice to do” but a “must do”. Using models and mechanisms to keep resources circulating in the economy at their maximum value, has the potential to bring real change in using water sustainably, especially in the irrigation sector, and offers many opportunities for Dutch businesses.  

> Click here for this article in Dutch

Already many solutions that encourage circular economy thinking in agriculture are being implemented. For example, farmers use discarded agriculture produce as feed for animals, as compost or as inputs for biogas, extracting maximum use out of the produce. The same principles that apply to the natural movement of water, the hydrolic watercycle, should also be implemented in irrigation for agriculture. Water does not simply disappear and is because of this an excellent ‘renewable resource’.

The future is SMART

As agriculture accounts for over 60% of total water demand in Kenya, reducing this demand can bring significant water saving. One of the ways to reduce water demand is by ensuring that farmers switch to more efficient irrigation systems.

Basically, this means that the sector needs to become “SMART” about using water for cultivation. So, identifying solutions that reward farmers by saving on costs of resources like water, energy and others. Besides this, these new techniques should mitigate weather related risks and enable off-season production.

SNV Smart Water for Agriculture

The Smart Water for Agriculture program of SNV (finances by the Netherlands Embassy until the 31st December 2019) has identified multiple SMART water solutions that can remain in the economy for a long time, reduce the usage of groundwater or river water, and can also be reused and recycled. Examples are solutions for water storage that ensure irrigation water is taken from the “flood-flow” rather than the “base-flow” of a river, and even harvest rainwater and collect road run-offs. Other solutions are based on using solar energy for pumping water from different water sources instead of using fossil fuel based pumps and using drip-lines and sprinklers that can reduce consumption of water.

Seasonal fluctuations in water levels are also a significant challenge in Kenya. SMART ways to address this, are by ensuring water retention through aquifer storage and rainwater harvesting. It is important that the systems are well maintained, water losses through leakages in the systems happens frequently and undermines the success of the uptake of these new systems. Lastly even technologicaly advanced solutions like using flying sensors/drones to gather information on when and where there is water stress and use water accordingly can create a real impact.

Working together

While knowledge about existing solutions is important, it is also essential to recognize the various factors that hamper the adoption of these solutions. It is not only important to make businesses aware of the possible innovations, but also guarantee that there is sufficient skilled staff in the area who can do maintenance and access to finance has to be in place. Above all, the success of adoption of these new techniques depends on the awareness within the entire chain of the importance of using circular methods within the company. Only if the majority of companies implements SMART irrigation solutions and through partnerships between the various actors involved in irrigation – from buyers and marketers of agriculture produce, input suppliers, smart water technology providers, financial institutions, academic institutions, NGO’s and government/regulatory bodies there will be a transformation of the sector.

“We need to remember that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution in irrigation. We need to encourage the use of circular economy thinking to design solutions that are best suited to the irrigation situation of the individual farmers or a cluster of farmers. By encouraging a circular mentality and fostering cooperation we take one step in the right direction.” (Vandana SNV)

Smart Water For Agriculture

Through the Smart Water for Agriculture program, Irrigation Acceleration Platforms are established that bring together these varied stakeholders with a common interest to meet and interact. Together they are working on implementing SMART irrigation solutions to upscale adoption in the different Counties in Kenya. Some of the earlier mentioned techniques are already widely implemented by farmers. Besides this the farmners are suppted in the program through training on good water use practices by local capacity builders, partnerships with financial institutions such as Eclof Kenya and market actors such as Frigoken, and working closely with the respective County governments’ department of agriculture and irrigation. The aim is that these partnerships between different stakeholders encourage product designs and policy changes that help in reducing, reusing and recycling water for irrigation.

In conclusion, the water sector in Kenya is booming with different initiatives that clearly demonstrate the opportunities for (Dutch) entrepreneurs. From pumps to solar energy, drip by drip water is used in a more effective and profitable manner that is at the same time good for the environment and farmer. Although the solutions outlined above are already diverse, many more innovations are possible.

The Kenyan Agriculture Sector is transforming and depends on the input of new players. Would you also like to share your SMART irrigation solution or do you have questions? Send an email to nai-lnv@minbuza.nl. For questions on the Smart Water for Agriculture Program you can send an email to Vandana Thottoli at kenya@snv.org