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New irrigation technology transforms farming in Kenya’s arid regions

By Ejidiah Wangui TAITA TAVETA (Xinhua) -- A low cost technology that uses plastic linings to cover top soil has come to the rescue of farmers in Kenya’s drought-prone arid and semi arid counties.

The technology which has been piloted in dry parts of Taita Taveta County in the coast region will help farmers incur fewer expenses while irrigating crops.

An official from agencies that are implementing the technology who spoke to Xinhua recently hailed its potential to transform agriculture in the arid regions where food insecurity is rampant.

John Mlamba, executive director of Management of Arid Zones Initiative and Development Option (MAZIDO) said the plastic linings cut the cost of irrigation by half while reducing water loss.

“Our pilot projects in the dry parts of Taita Taveta County have shown that the polythene lining can preserve water in the soil for six to eight weeks when complimented by organic matter in a process described as plasticulture,” said Mlamba.

“The idea which originated from Thailand has gained popularity globally and it is now being practiced in the Middle East, Australia and other Far East nations,” he added.

He said the plasticulture technology is more viable for cultivation of water melons that take only four months to mature.

Mlamba told Xinhua that plasticulture has led to bumper harvest of watermelons in the drier parts of Taita Taveta County while utilizing minimal water.

Promoters of plasticulture technology usually encourage farmers to supplement it with organic manure in order to boost soil water retention and nutrients. 

“The organic matter holds the water moisture for more than six weeks. This is supported by the laying of polythene lining covering the area around the stem of the crops, preventing direct sunlight,” Mlamba said.

He noted that besides minimizing irrigation costs and boosting food security, the technology has boosted farmers’ revenue.

Mlamba noted that a farmer in a dry region can irrigate his crops once a week if he uses plasticulture and compost manure.

He underscored the critical role of low cost technologies to help Kenyan smallholder farmers cope with adverse impacts of climate change like recurrent droughts.

Taita Taveta is among 23 Kenyan counties that have been affected by a severe food crises linked to failed rains in the last two seasons.

The expansive county has varying agro-ecological zones but has the capacity to feed itself and the entire coast region if farmers embrace climate smart agricultural practices.

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