Problem Addressed

One of the major barriers to sustainable food security and even commercial food production in Kenya and other parts of Eastern Africa is not a shortage of rainfall - or even a shortage of water - but a shortage of good water management. This particularly impacts rural areas and communities where long term water solutions are often lacking. Without local capacity to capture and store water that is abundantly available during the two rain seasons - for use during the extended dry seasons - it is unlikely that the long term production of food for local or commercial use can be realistically achieved or sustained, let alone increased – and that water and food security will remain an ongoing issue.

A second significant barrier to reliable food production in many parts of Africa - including Kenya - has been the high capital and maintenance cost of water management technology. Kenya has 5.4 million hectares of arable land, but only 17% of this land is suitable for rain-fed agriculture, leaving the remainder in need of irrigation and pumping technology. Petrol, electric, and manual treadle pumps are presently available in the market, but the effectiveness of these technologies is constrained by high capital costs, lack of maintenance and/or labour inefficiencies and critically, an inability for them to be maintained locally.

Innovative Approach

The AfricaWaterBank (AWB) is simple, effective and low cost when compared to a drilled borehole or even a dam or pan (at approximately half the cost of each of these alternatives). Perhaps its greatest advantage is that it is technology that can be 100% maintained at a local level in rural settings – overcoming what has been identified as the greatest problem with alternative water provision systems such as generator-equipped and hand-pumped boreholes, pans and dams.

Cost, reliability, sustainability, low maintenance and community ownership and participation are important innovations with the AWB system when compared to alternatives. Communities partnering with AWB to construct systems are expected to contribute 50% of the total cost, establish a water management committee to oversee participation in the construction and ongoing management and maintenance of the systems and provide labour for excavation of the foundation for the system.

AWB Rainwater Harvester

Program Solution

Three years ago the AfricaWaterBank (AWB) perfected a design for a rainwater harvesting system to supply clean drinking water to rural communities who do not have it and to provide water for drip-irrigated food production. The developed technology is simple, effective and low cost when compared to a drilled borehole or even a dam or pan (at approximately half the cost of each of these alternatives). Perhaps its greatest advantage is that it is technology that can be 100% maintained at a local rural level – overcoming what has been identified as the greatest problem with alternative water provision systems such as generator equipped and hand-pumped boreholes, pans and dams.

The technology involves the construction of a robust 225,000 liter masonry tank, an artificial roof (sized according to rainfall) to harvest rain - and innovative hardware including super-sized gutters and efficient yet simple primary and secondary filtration and flushing systems. The tank is compartmentalized to provide ease of cleaning and ensure clean water is available all year round. All of this is achieved without the use of mechanical parts.

The AWB system supports clean drinking water all year round for a community of 400 people or a school of 800 students - or water to irrigate a one third of an acre greenhouse on a standalone basis (500,000 liters of water per annum) - or a combination of both. Pilot projects in Meru, West Pokot, Baringo and Narok Counties in Kenya in 2014 have demonstrated that the provision of clean drinking water utilizing the AWB system can be easily extended to develop efficient drip irrigated greenhouses so that it is possible to address the clean water - low cost food production nexus. The combination of these innovative developments means that a 1/3 acre greenhouse is able to grow a wide variety of vegetables to the value of $2500 a month after costs for commercial purposes.

Increased production from greenhouses as opposed to open irrigation is significant. Triple shelving in a greenhouse means that one third of an acre greenhouse is actually able to provide the equivalent of a full acre of open irrigated garden. The AWB system is suitable as a community or school owned and operated system for both the provision of clean drinking water or horticultural purposes – or alternatively as a privately owned system that has the potential to turn one acre subsistence farmers into market gardeners with incomes up to 25 times greater than they currently generate.