2016 Annual Report: Rehabilitation of Kalomo earth dam gives back a dryland community its voice and dignity

Susan showing one of the trenches dug along the footpath, for collection of run-off water, which she then directs to her farm. Notice a series of trenches behind her on the footpath.
Susan showing one of the trenches dug along the footpath, for collection of run-off water, which she then directs to her farm. Notice a series of trenches behind her on the footpath.

Rehabilitation of Kalomo earth dam gives back a dryland community its voice and dignity

The administrative boundary of Kalomo dam is within the Kalomo sub-location in Makueni County. Loosely translated, “Kalomo”, in Kikamba, means someone who talks a lot. But for the over 2,000 households and approximately 1,000 livestockwho depended on this dam – constructed over 50 years ago – did not provide much to talk about. For many years, the dam could only hold water for three months; furthermore, the water was contaminated by humans and animals. When the FOSEMS project started working with the Kalomo Self-Help group, Pricilla Musila, a 60-year old mother of three, recalls: “We were the laughing stock of the entire community.”

In 2013, people told us that we would wait for ages to realize the promise Africa Harvest made. We were really intimidated, even during market days, because people talked behind our back that the project was a white elephant.” With no other choice than to make the project work, the community did everything needed. “On the day we were told that the contractor would be on site, we were there by 6 o’clock in the morning to witness the works start”, recalls Princilla with a smile and concludes: “We have come from far!” Members of the group have grown from 40 to 55, attracted by the benefits clearly evident to the community.

Priscilla laughs and says, “Women can now go to hair salons unlike before, when they always wore head scarfs to protect their hair from dust!” Before the rehabilitation works, communities, primarily women, walked 4 km daily to fetch water, which cost KES 15 for every 20 litre gallon. This required strict domestic rationing since most households could only afford about 40 liters per day, which translates to KES 30 per day. The community’s life has improved significantly due to accessibility of clean and uncontaminated water. Over and above the rehabilitation works, the project built a modern water kiosk and a cattle trough for the animals. This has significantly reduced water-borne diseases.

The dam area covers almost one acre, which was apportioned from the land of three community members who have signed agreements with the community to allow the land to be used communally. The dam is fully secured by a chain link fence and a lockable gate. The community has received training on water use and management to ensure there is no overuse, especially during the dry periods. The community is discussing the possibility of a small charge for access to water for domestic as well as for livestock needs.

The water association hopes the small levy will provide for the kiosk caretaker and minor repairs. The activities in the pipeline include the establishment of a tree nursery and a brick- making project. The community of Kalomo is finding its voice; now there is something to talk about, just as the name of their village connotes.

INFAS project helps farmers in arid lands harvest rain and run-off water

Smallholder farmers in Africa largely depend on erratic, unreliable and low rainfall for their livelihoods. In some cases, small-scale vegetable gardens and fruit orchards must be irrigated in order to assure a minimum return of investment. The INFAS project in Kisii and Nyamira have experienced poor distribution of rain and frequent dry spells. It was therefore imperative that the farmers are trained in rainwater harvesting (RWH), for both domestic and irrigation purposes. RWH is broadly defined as the collection and concentration of run-off for productive purposes. It includes all methods of concentrating, diverting, collecting, storing, utilizing and managing runoff for productive uses.

This provides water that can be used for domestic purposes, livestock and irrigation, or commercial purposes. RWH technologies and systems can be classified based on run-off generation process, size of catchment and type of storage.There are many promising indigenous RWH techniques used by farmers. RWH technology is low cost and simple. RWH technologies have a high potential because they can eradicate poverty and hunger, provide safe drinking water and sanitation, ensure environmental sustainability, and promote gender equity and women empowerment. Water scarcity, especially for domestic and agricultural purposes, compromises the role of women in food production. Hence, provision of water by promoting RWH and management technologies reduces the burden on rural women, thus increasing their productivity.

Within the INFAS project, Africa Harvest taught and empowered farmers to start with harvesting water for domestic use. Before this, many farmers in the project areas didn’t harvest roof water. This is probably because of the humid tropical climate; before the onset of climate change, the rain patterns were definite and water was abundant, but this is not the case now.

The farmers were trained at the group level and encouraged to gather the rain harvesting implements over some time due to their high cost. They were also trained on how to use local materials to fashion simple gutters. Mrs. Susan Mayak is one the farmers who has been trained. She is 53 years old and married to Mr John Mayaka. They have four children and live in Sensi Ward, Kitutu ChacheSub-County in Kisii County. On their two-acre farm, the Mayaks have several enterprises that include dairy farming, a banana orchard, local vegetables, sorghum, maize and orange- fleshed sweet potatoes (OFSP).

Susan shows a fabricated gutter on one side of her house and a water collection barrel that holds about 240 liters of water.
Susan shows a fabricated gutter on one side of her house and a water collection barrel that holds about 240 liters of water.

For the longest time, the area had sufficient rains, but they noticed that within a short time, there would not even have a single drop of water in the household. This forced Susan to travel more than 5 km to source water. Often, the water would not be safe for consumption due to contaminates such as animal dung, silt and dirt from clothes washed by the banks of the river.
Susan is a member of the Nyakeiri Self-Help Group. During one of the group meetings, in 2015, an Extension Officer indicated that he would be conducting training in water harvesting and soil conservation. This was part of the IFAD-funded project, INFAS. During the training, the first topic was about how to harvest rainwater from the roof, using modern or traditional gutters.

The water would then be directed to a tank or pans, dug and covered with polythene liner to prevent it from seeping into the ground. The second topic was about how to dig terraces for water and silt retention. This involved using the trenches to direct run-off water from the road to the farm. Though Susan did not have enough resources, she decided to try things out. She started by buying non-corrugated iron sheets, splitting them up and modifying them into a ridge. She collected water through all possible ways. Susan has practically translated theory into action and can attest it has yielded results.

She has made small ditches on the road and directed the run-off water to each and every banana stool in her farm. Napier grass was planted and a water retention ditch was dug along an established strip of OFSP. When her neighbours could not sustain their livestock with feed, her farm remained green and had enough fodder and water for household chores and even her animals.