Bucket kits for Kenya
My friend the farmer called from Africa one early morning last week, and once we got used to the three-second delay on the satellite phone, we were able to converse pretty well.
He and his wife are in Kenya on a mission and, as a farmer, a major part of his mission is trying to help people grow more food. He’s spent the past couple of years teaching people how to build garden-sized irrigation systems out of five-gallon buckets, suspended on a pole and connected to about 100 feet of drip hose. In a country where water has to be hauled from distant wells or collection sites, the bucket kits help put water where a garden needs it — at each plant.
We’ve seen the kits and they make a lot of sense. Five-gallon buckets, the kind used commercially for anything from paint to pickles, are easy to find, and the rest of the kit — the hose and couplers to attach them to the buckets — costs about $10. My farmer friend has been doing demonstration projects around Kenya and Uganda, teaching people how to set up and use the kits in their gardens.
He said he’s done maybe 30 training sessions, and likes to follow up at the demonstration gardens every three weeks or so, if he can. The benefit of a drip hose, especially in an arid climate, is that the water is released slowly to the plants. Water from a watering can tends to run over the top of the dry soil, and away from the plants. And in an area like where my friend was calling from, where the last rains were in April, that’s a tragic waste of a precious resource.
“So how is it working out?” I asked. “Are people using the kits?”
“Well,” he said. “There are various stages of success. It kind of depends on ambition, and some people have a lot of lame excuses about why they stopped using it.”
He sounded a little frustrated.
In one part of the country, a semi-arid region east of Nairobi, Kenya, he’s had good success, with a “dedicated gentleman interested in promoting the kits.” There are about 350 bucket kits in operation there, mostly at family gardens. People there pay about a nickel for five gallons of water at collection sites, and either carry the buckets back home or use a donkey.
“Some people with a little more money will buy a couple of kits and grow some vegetables to sell at market,” my friend said. “The system is very relevant.”
But he’s found that introducing anything new is hard.
In a dry area outside of Kisumu, my friend introduced the kits to a guy working for a nongovernment organization. It’s a place where they grow cassava, and use the root for flour or sliced and fried for chips. Cassava — also called yucca, manioc and tapioca, among other names — is a succulent and can grow in arid climes. My friend thinks they could grow sweet potatoes there, too. But they don’t.
And the NGO guy didn’t really follow through on using or promoting the bucket kits, in part because he had a bigger idea: an irrigation system that watered a larger area but cost $100 and used 60 gallons of water at a time. It didn’t catch on, so he asked my friend to come back and show him the small system again.
“Part of our struggle is to find a community leader who is sold on the system and will push it,” my friend said. Once people see it in operation, and see what they can grow, he’s convinced they’ll use the bucket kits. Then he sees people eating better, children growing stronger, maybe families with a little surplus cash to sent the kids to school.
He said he’s encouraged by the successes he’s seen, and sometimes frustrated by dead ends.
My friend was calling from an orphanage, where he’s worked before on roof collection systems to capture water in the few months a year that it rains. He and his wife were staying there for a week in the guest house, and had brought donations his wife had coordinated: 60 pairs of shoes for the kids, and some clothing and books.
It’s a place where kids eat once a day, and it’s part of the reason my friend is so dedicated to figuring out a way to make growing food easier in that part of the world. He might get frustrated sometimes, but he’s not giving up.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
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