Hands washing under a tap with running water as a symbol of water harvesting and management by Ambokili Farm

Water is the lifeblood of any farm, but in semi-arid regions, every drop counts. Every drop counts when it comes to nurturing healthy crops and maintaining a thriving permaculture system. 

In 2022, we started Ambokili Farm on a dust-laden, semi-arid landscape in Kimana town. The land was damaged, with gullies as deep as 2 meters and sheet erosion that had stripped the soil bare. 

One of the biggest challenges we faced was the availability of water. Water scarcity poses a significant challenge for agricultural practices, especially in semi-arid regions. However, Ambokili Farm has found innovative ways to address this issue through water harvesting and management techniques such as digging a well, building a 450,000-litre reservoir to store collected water and practicing water and moisture conservation techniques like mulching. 

What is Water Harvesting and Management?

Water harvesting involves the collection and storage of rainwater and runoff, while water management focuses on using this captured water efficiently. It encompasses a range of techniques designed to capture and utilise rainwater effectively, mitigating the impacts of water scarcity. 

In essence, it’s about collecting the rainwater nature provides and strategically using it to nourish your crops throughout the season. 

Why Does Water Harvesting and Management Matter for Organic Farms like Ambokili Farm?

Here in the semi-arid terrain, rainfall can be scarce and unpredictable. Traditional farming methods often rely on extracting groundwater, which can lead to depletion of this vital resource. Water harvesting and management offered sustainable solutions with several advantages such as: 

It reduced Reliance on External Water Sources: By capturing rainwater, Ambokili Farm lessened their dependence on purchased water which was expensive. This not only benefits the Farm’s long-term sustainability but also reduces pressure on financial resources. 

Improved water security: Stored water reserve provides a safety net during dry spells, ensuring your crops have the hydration they need to thrive. Our 450,000-liter reservoir collects and stores water that we use on the Farm and is especially useful during periods of drought. 

Improved Water Efficiency: Techniques like drip irrigation ensure that water reaches the roots of plants directly, minimising evaporation and waste. 

Enhanced Soil Health: Efficient irrigation practices, like drip irrigation often used in conjunction with water harvesting, minimise water waste and promote healthy soil moisture levels. This creates a natural cycle where healthy soil retains more water, requiring less irrigation in the long run. This, in turn, fosters beneficial soil microbes and improves nutrient uptake for your plants. 

Reduced erosion: Water harvesting techniques like swales and contour planting can slow down water runoff, preventing soil erosion and preserving precious topsoil. 

Improved Crop Health: Consistent access to water ensures your organic crops receive the hydration they need to flourish, leading to better yields and potentially higher profits. 

How to Harvest and Manage Water in Semi-Arid Areas:

Farms can adopt several water harvesting and management strategies to conserve water resources and improve water retention. These techniques include: 

Rainwater Collection Systems: Installing rainwater harvesting systems such as rain barrels, tanks, or cisterns to capture rainwater from rooftops or other surfaces. 

Contour Farming: Implementing contour farming techniques to slow down runoff and facilitate water infiltration, reducing soil erosion and enhancing water retention. 

Mulching: Applying organic mulch materials such as straw, hay, or compost to the soil surface to reduce evaporation, retain moisture, and improve soil structure. 

Swales and Berms: Constructing swales (shallow channels) and berms (raised beds) along the contour lines to capture and channel rainwater, allowing it to infiltrate into the soil. 

Drip Irrigation: Implementing drip irrigation systems that deliver water directly to the root zone of plants, minimising water loss through evaporation and runoff. 

Contribution to Organic Permaculture:

Organic permaculture is a design philosophy that emphasizes working with nature, not against it. Water harvesting and management perfectly embody this principle. By capturing rainwater, you’re mimicking natural processes, creating a closed-loop system that benefits your farm and the surrounding ecosystem.  

By integrating water conservation techniques into their operations, organic farms contribute to: 

Ecosystem Balance: Maintaining a balanced water cycle within the farm ecosystem promotes biodiversity and ecological harmony. 

Resource Efficiency: Efficient water use minimises waste and maximises the utilisation of natural resources, aligning with permaculture’s focus on resource efficiency. 

Community Engagement: Practicing water harvesting and management is serving as an educational hub, inspiring and engaging the community in sustainable agriculture practices. 

Benefits of Good Water Harvesting and Management:

Sustainable Agriculture: By conserving water resources, farms contribute to the long-term sustainability of agriculture, ensuring food security for future generations. 

Climate Resilience: Building resilience to climate change impacts through water management strengthens farms’ ability to withstand extreme weather events e.g. dry seasons and droughts. 

Environmental Conservation: Reduced water runoff and soil erosion contribute to the conservation of natural habitats and waterways, preserving biodiversity and ecosystem services. 

Increased Crop Yields: Reliable access to water fosters healthy plant growth and leads to higher crop yields, which translates to greater food security and economic resilience for the Farm. 

Sustainability: Water harvesting, and management empower farms like Ambokili Farm to adapt to the challenges of climate change and ensure long-term sustainability for generations to come. 

Water conservation: By using less water overall, you contribute to the conservation of this precious resource, benefiting your community and the environment. 

Reduced pressure on water tables: Less reliance on groundwater pumping helps maintain healthy water tables, crucial for long-term water security. 

Improved ecosystem health: Reduced water runoff minimizes erosion and promotes healthy plant growth, contributing to a thriving local ecosystem. 

Social Equity: Access to water is essential for rural communities’ livelihoods. Water harvesting and management promote equitable distribution and access to water resources, fostering social cohesion and economic empowerment. 

Embrace Water Harvesting and Management: A Sustainable Future for Organic Farming

Water harvesting and management are powerful tools for organic farmers in dry climates. By adopting these practices, you can secure a reliable water source for your crops, contribute to a more sustainable and resilient farm ecosystem, ensure a future where organic permaculture flourishes and play a vital role in conserving this precious resource for the planet and future generations.  

Additionally, they’re essential for the future of sustainable agriculture. Consider incorporating water harvesting techniques into your farm practices. Let’s work together to ensure a thriving future for our farms, our communities, and our planet, one raindrop at a time.