Water is Life

Originally published on December 12, 2017.

CoP K-SALES, Dr. Ignatius Kahiu (far left) next to a water tank that is to be rehabilitated in a semi-arid community supported by K-SALES.​

This three-part blog series features successes and lessons learned of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Kenya Semi-Arid Livestock Enhancement (K-SALES) program. This Food for Progress initiative focused on livestock programing in semi-arid regions in Kenya. Read Part One here. Read Part Three here.

In Kitui, a semi-arid county of south-eastern Kenya, the women have been waking up at 3 a.m. every day for the last six months. That’s how long it’s been since the last rain came. During the dry seasons, they trudge with donkeys carrying water in plastic jerrycans on their backs for six kilometers to the nearest well to fetch water. The water is used for a day’s worth of the family’s drinking, cooking and hygienic needs. A limited amount goes to the family’s cow or goats.
“The ground is parched; the animals are barely hanging on, and there is no food on the farm. Water stress is high,” says Dr. Ignatius, K-SALES Chief of Party. “If I can see their lives changing as they become commercially viable farmers – their children will go to school. They will have medical coverage. Markets will be stronger. We all will have a brighter future.”
Water is livelihood concern number one
A veterinarian by training, Dr. Ignatius has been working with the USDA K-SALES since its start in October 2013. Early on in program start-up, it became clear that one element of the program would be critical: water. “It was apparent that the most important thing was water. Both for animals and for domestic use. All other things can’t come to bear without water. It is livelihood item number one,” Dr. Ignatius says.
The K-SALES team encountered many challenges related to water through the life of the project. Though specialized water systems engineering is needed to make widespread change, K-SALES found that several activities could help within the program’s scope:

     1. Improved on-farm practices:
As we learned from Blog One, it starts (but doesn’t end) with realities on the farm. Without water, farmers can’t grow crops. Without crops, farmers are unable to feed their livestock. Fodder preservation is critical to getting farmers through droughts. And getting farmers through droughts is critical to building strong markets. Since 2013, K-SALES has been working with locally-led farmer field schools to teach farmers practical techniques to maintain productivity for trade.
     2. Increased access to clean community water systems:
Without reliable access to water, livestock productivity significantly decreases. However, water systems, such as dissemination pumps and quality systems, are expensive and very specialized. Whenever possible, K-SALES worked with local partners to develop community-based water points, such as boreholes and water troughs to ensure access to clean water for humans and livestock. K-SALES strategically established 229 water points within high density livestock population zones. For each facility, a community management unit (Water User Association) was established to operate and manage the water points, including planning for equitable sharing of the water, repair and maintenance of the pumps, and security and environmental conservation around the water pans. These water facilities haves increased access to clean water for nearly 46,000 families, significantly reducing both distance and time travelled in search of water by about 50 percent.

      3. Livestock diversity can build resilience to drought:
Cattle, sheep, goats, camels, chickens and donkeys are common on smallholder farms in Kenya. Of these, camels and goats are the most resilient to drought. Unlike cows, they both feed on shrubs (rather than grass), require less water, and are less susceptible to disease after being vaccinated. “Households that can keep goats are more secure during extreme drought seasons,” says Dr. Sam. Goats are easier to sell, and, Dr. Sam notes another important benefit of goats, “Women are typically responsible for tending to goats. They also happen to be responsible for feeding the family and are more than willing to sell a goat to do so,” says Dr. Sam. “And, the more families learn from each other about diversifying the types of livestock they own, the better off they will be in times of drought.”

Members of a WUAs assist in digging for a water trough to be constructed as part of their Cost Share to the project​.

More needs to be done
During hunger seasons in the past, semi-arid regions would turn to more agriculturally productive regions of Kenya for food. However, this year, these regions are also experiencing less rain. “This past year, they have not seen optimal production on farms. The soil quality is degrading, and it is causing hunger to be more severe in semi-arid lands,” says Dr. Ignatius.

Kenya’s National Drought Management Authority predicts that it will only get worse. “In the future, if K-SALES had a follow-on, the project would need to adopt a ‘resilience lens’ – factoring in water security, diversification of livestock herds, fodder production and strengthening of markets and marketability of livestock and livestock products,” says Dr. Sam. “Farmers could also benefit from a contingency mechanism to help protect their assets during extreme drought.”

Next week’s blog will dive into another semi-arid ag development lesson: Value addition can build food security.

Related Resources
Stories From
This Program
Value addition to improve overall livestock value

This is the third in a three-part blog series which features successes and lessons learned of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Kenya Semi-Arid Livestock Enhancement (K-SALES) program. Learn More

From the Experts: What is K-SALES?

This is the first in a three-part blog series featuring successes and lessons learned of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Kenya Semi-Arid Livestock Enhancement (K-SALES) program. This Food for Progress initiative focused on livestock development in semi-arid regions in Kenya. Learn More

ICT Platform Brings Services Closer Home

Technology that leverages telecommunications platforms introduces efficiency into the livestock supply chain. Learn More