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Agribusiness hangs on water management

Water is often taken for granted; until it becomes scarce, leaving lives at stake.

By THRITY-ENGINEER MBUTHIA 

In his message at the World Water Day celebration held on 22nd March 2019, the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres highlighted that there are 2.1 billion people (about 27 percent of world’s population) who live without access to safe water. United Nations data estimates that the world’s population currently stands at 7.7 billion and projected to reach almost 10 billion by 2050. Agribusiness will be responsible for ensuring availability of enough food to feed this population. This means that there will be a strain on current water bodies to provide enough water for the huge population both for food production and other uses.

In Kenya for example, the past three months has seen temperatures soar to outside of normal ranges in most parts of the country. The heat and the lack of rain has not only made it uncomfortable, in some cases, impacting the health of both animals and humans, but has also meant that planting is not possible unless there is access to water. The pressure on the available water resources is rising by day. Nairobi County recently sent out an alert about a possible cholera outbreak, which is compounded by lack of enough clean water. 

Water preservation

A useful way of storing and preserving water is via the use of dams. Kenya has several dams across the country that provide both hydroelectric power and water for domestic, industrial and agricultural use. The amounts of money needed to build dams and the length of time as well, makes it a necessary but complex project. A project like the High Grand Falls Dam, to be constructed on River Tana is estimated to cost KSh 200 billion. The objective of building the dam is to provide hydroelectric power and water for irrigation to Kitui, Garissa and Tana River counties. Once this dam is completed approximately 250,000 hectares of land can benefit from irrigation. Approximately 1.5 million people are meant to also benefit from the water in the greater Coast region. But the dam will take six years or even longer to complete. What happens until then?

Sustainable development goal (SDG) number 6 is focused on availability and management of water resources. With the population increasing and demand for clean water increasing as well, it seems likely that the demand will far outstrip the supply. This situation does not help the food sustainability – covered by SDG2 which advocates for ‘zero hunger.’ What then can a country like Kenya do to ensure that it supports the agriculture sector with enough water to ensure growth of enough food to feed its population? Already there are reports of certain parts of the country where people are losing their lives due to food shortages.

Water management initiatives

Countries like Canada and Jordan have embarked on initiatives on water management. Optimising water supply and storage is one area closely followed by recycling and re-use of water. Transfer of water to the places where it is needed the most, with as little wastage and loss is the starting point with water being stored and used in the most effective fashion. It is now also possible to have irrigation activities using water that has been treated and is suitable for re- use. This allows the right level of nutrients to get to the crops. 

The Kenya Rainwater Association is a part of a regional network of National Rainwater Associations whose primary focus is on finding rain harvesting management systems that are designed to reduce poverty, improve food production and increase food security. Small scale farmers are encouraged to set up micro irrigation systems by setting up household farm ponds that capture any surface run off water. The farmers are also encouraged to use drip methods of irrigation making the use of available water more efficient. The Kenya Rainwater Association also encourages schools to set up simple vegetable gardens, initiatives like roof catchment systems to capture water for use within the school premises. Students are further encouraged to plant seedlings that grow into trees as a way of conserving the environment.

A reducing forest cover

Education remains key to get citizens to understand the importance of water conservation. Water resources seem to be depleting and managing what is available is the key. Without this, reduced forest cover leads to less rainfall. Without a way to replenish the existing water bodies, the next best option would be to conserve what is currently there and use it to derive maximum benefit. The focus also needs to be on replenishing the forest cover to encourage more rainfall. Without water, man cannot and will not survive. In the words of W H Auden, “Thousands have lived without love, but not one without water.” It is said that the wars that will be fought in the years to come, will be about water. Such a precious commodity – water is truly life.

Thrity Engineer-Mbuthia is a PhD student of management and leadership at Management University of Africa. She is also a certified executive coach and marketer.  E mail: info@thrityengineer.org

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