New technology boosts yields for Meru farmers



Horticulture farmer, Patrick Gikunda ,from Githongo Village, Meru county, like farmers elsewhere, had continued to grapple with challenges that negate productivity. All was well until availability of water for farming in the village became scarce over time.

Farm production dwindled with water levels due to changing weather patterns. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) researcher, Simon Mogere, stationed in the area as part of a collaborative effort between the university and SNV (Stichting Nederlandse Vrijwilligers) – Netherlands noted: “For farmers in Meru, extreme weather has been a notable hindrance; a condition that has driven growers to adapt small scale irrigation techniques to boost production.”

The approach, practiced in Meru for more than three decades, has had a toll on streams in the county, forcing farmers to turn to scientists to find solutions.

The introduction of a unique farming technology by JKUAT’s Water Research and Resource Centre (WARREC) in collaboration with SNV-Netherlands, enabled Gikunda to reap more benefits from his farming venture introduced.        

What the drones do

Gikunda, who had just harvested cabbages became confident that data obtained from the flying sensor technology applied in the area was critical in his increased yield in the current season.

Flying Sensors project, implemented in Marimba, Githongo and Kibirichia villages, uses drones, of the same name to assess water management and crop health in irrigated fields.

A flying sensor is a small drone that can fly up to 200m above the ground and take high-resolution images, utilising the Near-Infra Red (NIR) spectrums of light. The images are later decoded and the information shared with farmers.

“Using this technology, farmers can discover diseases on plants and stress indicators, which are impossible to see with the naked eye, thus encouraging precision farming,” explains Prof Bancy Mati, WARREC director and the project team leader.

Mogere says the information obtained from the sensors can also help farmers make prompt decision regarding irrigation, water application in various sections of the field without over-application or under-application, ensuring optimal water usage.

The project is being implemented in Kaguru and Meru Central. So far, the innovation has proven popular with small and medium-sized farmers.

Towards this end, JKUAT and WARREC in collaboration with SNV-Netherlands is implementing two smart water projects for agricultural purposes in Meru county. The project provided partial scholarships to two JKUAT post-graduate students; Simon Mogere and Sarah Nagami who worked with Flying Sensors and Rota Sprayers, respectively.

The Rota Sprayer uses a new type of sprinkler that sprays water in a larger area compared to the conventional sprinklers.

According to Nagami, the Rota Sprayer system operates at low pressure and applies water uniformly within the wetted perimeter and can cover an area of 100m2 in one application.

Simple, easy and light

In addition, the system is simplified, easy to assemble, light in weight and affordable. “The design considerations of the Rota Sprayer irrigation system makes it a good option for farmers with limited resources. For instance, the low operating pressure will help the farmers reduce the pumping cost. The farmer can irrigate by gravity, using a raised tank at approximately three metres high,” says Nagami.

Nathan Muthamia, a farmer in Tirimiti, Meru says the system has made him work efficiently in the relatively dry area. “With this system, I work for two hours straight without getting worried about moving my sprinkler system for irrigation,” says Muthamia.

In comparison to the drip system, regularly used in Kenya, the Rota Sprayer system is less susceptible to clogging since the boom is made of aluminium pipes and the outlets are easy to unblock either by flushing the pipes or by using a sharp object to pierce the outlets. Although the system has proven popular with SME farmers, Nagami admits it is a new innovation and needs technical performance evaluation to help the farmers achieve optimum agricultural production through irrigation.


This story is courtesy of : Media Maxnetwork :

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