Poverty reduction is an overriding goal for most countries in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where majority of the poor live in rural areas mostly depending on rain-fed agriculture for their livelihoods. On the other hand, small-scale irrigation provides a large potential for achieving the region’s overarching goals of food security and poverty reduction. This study was therefore designed to evaluate the socioeconomic impacts of the Jain Drip Irrigation Project in Kibwezi, which was implemented to address food security and income generation. The specific objectives of the study were to: collect and review all the available data on the overall performance of the project, particularly on the agricultural, social, institutional and commercial aspects; carry out economic and social analysis on the performance of the project; evaluate the impact of the project, especially to determine its contribution towards the standard of living, income generation, employment creation and the potential to reduce rural to urban migration and dependence on drought relief; and document lessons learnt about what has made the project achieve or not achieve stipulated project objectives. In the short term, the Jain drip irrigation project brought immediate benefits, which included increased crop and livestock production for food and sale, translating to increased income and employment, especially for the youth and women.
The cyclic annual dependence on relief food was eliminated, especially when implementation of the project was at its peak. The outcome from the project implementation was improved livelihoods in terms of improved health, better security and housing, as well as improved family relationships. However, the benefits from the Jain drip irrigation project were short-lived because there was minimum involvement of beneficiaries’ right from the start of the project. The users were not sensitized or trained on the use of water (a public good) and there were no management and leadership structures in place to manage the project. This resulted in what is termed as the “Tragedy of the Commons” (where the public good-water- is used by all but the benefits are entirely private), where users were maximizing gains, resulting in mismanagement. Politicians also interfered with the project by pitting the users against one another, thus not allowing project design rules to be followed; an institutional failure. This resulted in farmers in Kwa Kyai (the water source) not willing to share the water with Kake and Masimbani by closing the water valves. There was also no maintenance of the drip lines, to the extent that there were leakages resulting in water losses. Drip lines were then vandalized and used for unintended purposes. Other partners who would have built capacity among the end users of the irrigation project were also not involved.
The failure of the Jain irrigation project brought about animosity in the community because of the conflicts that resulted from its mismanagement. After the project ended, the once improved livelihoods that came with the Jain Drip Irrigation Project deteriorated; food insecurity set in, incomes reduced, unemployment increased, thus prompting men to leave home to seek employment elsewhere; exacerbating rural-urban migration. Despite the failure of the irrigation project, the users learnt the importance of collective action, good governance and management of a public good to make it beneficial to every stakeholder, and for sustainability. According to the farmers who attended the Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), the project implementers should have managed the project for at least one year before handing it over to the local communities.
It was recommended that the National and County governments should revisit the issue of irrigation in Kibwezi, with a view to more efficiently using the available water for irrigation and serving more farmers. It is also important that such effort should sufficiently involve the local community, particularly those in Kwa Kyai who are currently benefiting from the water under flood irrigation. A committee to manage the water use should then be put in place where all benefiting communities are represented with an overseer from the government. The beneficiaries should also be sufficiently trained both on water management and production of crops under irrigation. Other relevant government ministries, such as Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and Office of the President should be involved.
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