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close this bookSourcebook of Alternative Technologies for Freshwater Augmentation in Africa (UNEP-IETC, 1998, 182 p.)
close this folderPart C - Case studies
View the document4.1 Tied ridging - Domboshawa, Zimbabwe
View the document4.2 Freshwater augmentation - cloud seeding, Zimbabwe
View the document4.3 Tidal irrigation, the Gambia
View the document4.4 Spring protection - Mukono district, Uganda
View the document4.5 Water augmentation - Laikipia district, Kenya
View the document4.6 Recycled water - Achimota Brewery, Ghana
View the document4.7 Water recycling - Tarkwa gold fields, Ghana

4.5 Water augmentation - Laikipia district, Kenya


This case study describes the experiences gained during the planning and implementation of a rainwater harvesting project at three locations in Laikipia District of Kenya (Sipilili, Olmoran and Machunguru Locations). The project demonstrated that a well-planned rainwater harvesting initiative can bring about sustainable development in communities in an isolated and marginal area, far from riverine water sources.

The Laikipia District lies on the leeward side of Mount Kenya and has an annual average rainfall of approximately 700 mm. Rain falls in two distinct seasons, known as the long rains and short rains. The area is categorized as semi-arid. The communities in the three locations comprise subsistence farmers growing crops (mainly maize and beans) and keeping livestock (cattle, sheep and goats). There are frequent droughts, resulting in frequent crop failures and decimation of the livestock herd.

Prior to the initiation of the rainwater harvesting project, most of the people living in the three locations did not have access to clean water. The only source of domestic water was from earth dams situated far away. The dams were also used for livestock watering. There was considerable soil erosion arising from inappropriate farming practices, resulting in heavy sedimentation in the dams. These factors rendered the water unsafe for human consumption. The heavy sedimentation also reduced the volume of water in the dams to such an extent that there were times when water was not available, even for domestic use. The dams had to be desilted, manually, every third year, which placed a tiresome burden on the communities.

Further, many households had no pit latrines and the level of basic hygiene was low. The lack of availability of safe water, low levels of nutrition and poor health status resulted in an overall situation at the homesteads of dependency, desperation and insecurity. Many of the subsistence farmers abandoned their plots and went to urban centres in search of employment.

In the light of these circumstances, the Laikipia West communities in 1985 requested the Church of the Province of Kenya to initiate a community-based resource mobilization project. The project is still operating, and, apart from its own activities, has worked in partnership with the Ministry of Health's environmental hygiene programme, the Ministry of Agriculture's soil conservation activities, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - supported Pastoral Water Programme, as well as with other, similar initiatives.

Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) was used as the means of initially identifying the major problems. The exercise involved the villagers, and pointed to the need for a human-centred approach in which peace, security, improved quality of life, preservation of the environment, justice and democracy were important elements of development. From the PRA, it became evident that the type of land use and farming practices in the area were unsuitable as they resulted in serious soil erosion, gully formation, general land degradation and inadequate agricultural production to sustain the families. Water was identified as the top priority among the communities, the traditional sources being too distant from the homesteads.

Women were spending considerable time in fetching small quantities of water, which had been rendered inadequate through drought and unsafe through pollution. Assessments showed that other sources of water such as groundwater were inaccessible at great depth and often saline. It therefore was necessary to design an alternative intervention that was based on both social and technical considerations.

In this regard, rainwater harvesting was considered a feasible option which addressed not only water supply issues but also other areas of social and economic development, such as the improvement of health and agriculture. The concept of rainwater harvesting was not new to the communities as many homesteads were already using household utensils to collect drinking water from rooftop catchments, and a few had developed techniques for collecting runoff water for use in irrigating their home gardens. However, only 25% of homesteads had corrugated iron roofs essential for roof catchment water harvesting. It therefore became necessary to gradually develop additional techniques to provide water for households.

Technical Description

The water augmentation programme began by introducing 2001 drums and 2 5001 water tanks for collection of roof catchment water. Based upon the demonstration of the potential of these small containers for rainwater harvesting, the communities decided to venture into large systems, and, by the end of the project, they had constructed several 10 0001 ferrocement tanks to capture and store rainwater.

The extension strategy adopted involved provision of technical advice which included, for example, advice on the calculation of the correct volume of tank in relation to the roof area and the amount of expected rainfall. Training was also provided in construction techniques such as determining the proper material mix, the slope of the gutter and the provision of splash-guards. Thereafter, the villagers did the actual construction. Both men and women participated in the programme. Women built the tanks on site while men were more interested in being trained in the techniques of tank building. One outcome of the project was that it promoted gender-balanced participation in the planning, as well as in the construction and maintenance, of the water facilities.

This technology is described in Part B, Chapter 2, "Domestic Water Supply."

As previously noted, other measures were also implemented during this programme. Laikipia is a semi-arid district, and soil moisture is the most limiting factor in crop production. Supplemental moisture, therefore, is necessary to ensure a harvest. Farmers were encouraged to practice runoff farming. The technique involved directing runoff from roads and upper slopes into groundwater tanks or directly onto the gardens for macro-irrigation using bunds made of soil and stones. Farmers were also encouraged to practice soil conservation, to establish tree seedling nurseries, and to plant trees around the boundaries of their farms, along the contours, and around their homesteads. They were also encouraged to plant communal and individual woodlots. Planting vegetative cover along soil conservation bunds was also promoted. These practices are reported to have increased food production on a sustainable basis.

These technologies are described in Part B, Chapter 1, "Agriculture."

Extent of Use

Maize production was increased as a result of improved land use and runoff farming techniques. In the Machunguru area, for example, yields were 8 bags of 90 kg each (720 kg) per acre prior to the initiation of the project, while, today, good farmers can attain yields of 20 bags (1 800 kg) per acre. The additional maize stover produced is fed to livestock during dry periods.

Prior to the water augmentation programme, vegetables were not grown in the area, but were obtained from Nyahururu and Nyandarua some 100 km away. Improved land use and runoff farming techniques have enabled vegetable production to meet household requirements and provide surpluses for sale to augment household incomes. In addition, farmers have diversified their crops from the traditional maize and beans to include potatoes, carrots, onions, soya beans, millet, bananas and fruit. This diversity has contributed greatly to food security and balanced diets.

Likewise, prior to the water augmentation project, the semi-arid area had very few trees, the original trees having been cut down for building, charcoal burning and for fuel wood. As part of the development package, the project encouraged production of tree seedlings and planting of trees within homesteads, along farm boundaries and contours, and in fanned woodlot, as well as afforestation on communal hilltops. Enterprising farmers derived considerable income from the sale of seedlings.

Operation and Maintenance

A number of in-ground storage tanks were built by the community to take advantage of, and maximise, the efforts made toward, and the benefits from, soil and water conservation in the District. Runoff water from roads, the upper reaches of slopes, and rooftop catchments was directed towards these tanks. The water so harvested had various end uses, including vegetable production and livestock watering.

Although the programme was centred on the provision of water, the project had some spin-offs and positive effects on other sectors of community development. This is attributed to the fact that members of the community were interacting continuously in a participatory manner, exchanging ideas and learning from each other. In addition the existence of an organized community made it easier for extension services from other agencies to deliver advice.

Effectiveness of the Technology

The use of contaminated water resulted in an high incidence of water-borne diseases. Stomach and other gastro-intestinal ailments were prevalent. Costs for medical treatment for a family were as high as Ksh 700 per annum ($15, or one month's wages for an average Kenyan). Availability of clean drinking water from the rooftop catchments reduced the incidences of these diseases, resulting in fewer sick days, increased economic activity of members of household, and savings in medical expenses which could be redirected to other household expenses.

It was also observed that increased levels of food production, accompanied by crop diversification, reduced the once prevalent high levels of malnutrition. Households had improved calorie intakes and more varied diets than was the case before the project was initiated.

Further, the number of households with corrugated iron roofs increased from 25% of homes to 70% of homes during the 10 year period. At the same time, the number of houses with sufficient rooms to accommodate family members, and those showing other improvements, increased from 40% to 70% of housing units.

As in the case of water supplies, the availability of toilet facilities is essential to maintaining the public health. The numbers and types of latrines built were continuously monitored during the project period. Within the project area, the percentage of simple pit latrines doubled, improved latrines tripled, and VIP latrines rose from zero to 24% of household units.


The performance of this project can be measured by its outputs and the benefits it brought to the communities. In all cases, the approaches taken and technologies used during this project were not only suitable for the area in which they were applied but they were also successful in achieving the broadly-based goals of the programme under which they were carried out. The key achievements can be summarised as follows:

· Approximately 1 000 tanks of various types and sizes were built by the communities, with technical advice and essential material assistance provided by the project, providing approximately 9 600 people with access to water.

· A significant number of households became involved in various rural development activities that did not exist in the area prior to the project.

· The percentage of households involved in vegetable growing, tree planting and seedling production, and home improvement activities increased from zero to 100% (vegetable growing); 90% (tree planting); 50% (tree seedling production); and 70% (home improvements).


No. of tanks built

No. of people served













Further Development of the Technology

Several independent evaluation teams state that, after 10 years of implementation, the program has considerably improved the living standards of the communities, with regard to water availability, public health improvement, farm management, and overall socio-economic status of the people. The project was planned and implemented in such a manner that the activities initiated should be self-sustaining, replicable and sustainable.

Information Sources

Rolf Winberg, Swedish International Development Authority, Post Office Box 30600, Nairobi, Kenya.