Small-holder farmers produce the majority of the country’s food. Unpredictable and irregular rainfall associated with the effects of climate change present a challenge to many farmers in Kenya. Only a small part of Kenya’s arable land is under any irrigation scheme. Existing efforts towards irrigation have been vigorous in the past few years as the government aims to reach 1.2 million irrigated acres by 2022 according to the Ministry of Water, Sanitation, and Irrigation (MWSI), 2019.
The increased availability and use of proven agricultural technology to help irrigate fields and protect crops can go a long way in boosting productivity and increasing overall resilience for the sector. Through its programs funded by DANIDA such as the Green Growth and Employment Programme 2016-2020 and Green Employment in Agriculture Programme 2021-2025, MESPT’s focus is on accelerating the access to and uptake of clean technology and climate-sensitive solutions for smallholder farmers. The approach is through a partnership with local service providers for the technologies as well as with financial intermediaries. One such local service provider that MESPT enrolled to work with smallholder farmers to provide irrigation solutions is Irritech Agri-Services Providers.
Founded in 2014, Irritech Agri-Service Providers is a green-technology company that works in drip irrigation technology and solar water pumps. Their main office is in Malindi and they have branches in Lamu, Taita Taveta, and Kajiado counties. In an interview with Daniel Chege, Irritech’s founder and managing director took us through his business. “We mainly work with small-holder farmers who need about 2,000 liters of water in a day but also sometimes with large scale farmers who need about 25,000 to 40,000 liters of water. When we established our business, we experienced challenges of acquiring start-up capital, difficulty in market penetration, and low sales turnover.”
At the beginning of 2016, Irritech participated in the Kilifi Green Enterprise Challenge organized by MESPT and Tangaza University. Irritech’s business model was in line with MESPT’s green transformation agenda and hence they were enrolled and established a partnership with MESPT to champion the uptake of drip irrigation systems across the region. Subsequently, MESPT invited Irritech to showcase and pitch their green technology products in various trade fairs, stakeholder forums, and the ‘Seller – Buyer farmers forum.
Through these interactions, Irritech was able to ink various deals with different organizations and farmers, linking them as a service provider directly to the end-users.
Their main breakthrough came in 2019 when MESPT invited them to participate in the Loitoktok farmers’ forum. Many farmers were interested in their products and eight farmers contracted Irritech to install drip irrigation kits for them. This contract boosted their business and resulted in them opening another branch at Kimana in Kajiado county and employing six staff members to run it. As of December 2020, Irritech had installed 17 solar-powered water pumps and 127 drip irrigation systems in various counties while at the same time maintaining and managing huge orders for the same.
Irrigation technology provides an all-year-round water supply to the farms, even creating an additional planting season for the farmers. It allows farmers to time the harvests when market prices are at the highest. Since the pumps are powered by the sun, costs are low, and money is saved on fuel. Farmers have an increased and more predictable income and have become more resilient especially during times of drought.
The use of solar water pumps by individual farmers has doubled agricultural yields, and in some instances, outputs have quadrupled. With reliable irrigation, farmers can make the switch to higher-value crops, such as French beans and peas, instead of maize. Gideon Sanimo, a farmer from Kimana in Kajiado county, is happy to be using the Irritech irrigation system, as he explained, “I like using the drip irrigation system by Irritech because it is easy to use. I can use the water the way I desire. Drip irrigation is better than farrow irrigation because finding a lot of water for that method is not easy. It also requires you to be on the farm regularly. Drip irrigation on the other hand does not require all that.”
Irritech credit plan for farmers
As a small-scale service provider, Irritech learned from MESPT the importance of creating linkages between the service providers and the farmers. They established a credit product for farmers who wanted to acquire the drip kits or solar pumps but did not have the cash to purchase them. The credit product has a flexible repayment plan as they allow farmers to pay in installments at no additional interest. Daniel acknowledges the significant role that MESPT has played in subsidizing the cost of solar pumps and drip kits by paying a certain percentage for their installations. This, in turn, has accelerated the uptake and adoption of green technologies hence they can improve their farming systems.
Sarah Nzau, MESPT Value Chain Officer for Kajiado County, explained how they linked Irritech to farmers. “As MESPT, we connected Irritech to farmers in the Kimana location, Kajiado county because of the high demand for their services as farmers in this area produce French beans and other horticultural crops that need a continuous water supply, and they also practice dairy farming. The linkage turned out to be very successful as the farmers using the drip irrigation kits recorded lower production costs and higher profits leading to a growing demand for the green technology.”
Corporate Communications Officer-MESPT