Every time Sarah (42) sees signs of rain, she normally thinks of her almost dying sweet potatoes in her garden. She planted the sweet potatoes in April and every time she visits the garden, it makes her sad to see how deteriorating they get by the day.
“Five months have passed and I should be eating potatoes by now but I keep postponing hoping it would rain. I need the sweet potatoes nourished abit before I harvest them. But I’m slowly giving up and this week, if all goes according to plan, I shall go get myself some potatoes,” says the mother of four.
This is the first time Sarah is farming in many years and so she was not aware when the rains would stop when she started working in her garden. She wasn’t sure whether it was the right time to plant given the erratic rainfalls. This and the fact that her farm is kilometers away in Bagamoyo led to the delay in planting. She only has Saturdays to work in her garden given that she is an employee.
“I must admit I planted in the middle of the rain season. But I was not worried since the rains were expected to end in early June according to weather forecasts. To me it was okay planting the sweet potatoes in April as I thought a whole month of rain would have been okay,” says Sarah. But given the current climatic changes, the rains stopped earlier than anticipated.
Apart from the sweet potatoes, Sarah had planted maize, beans and cassava. To her surprise, she was able to harvest enough maize for roasting, boiling and for milling. She had not expected to get any maize.
Only her cassavas look stunted because of the scorching sun. She hopes they will improve with the coming rains expected in October.
Although the sweet potatoes don’t look that healthy either, Sarah is sure of getting a fairly good harvest.
“At some point, I contemplated watering them but that meant I needed to do so every day which I could not afford given the distance to my farm and the fact that I work. Neither could I hire someone to do the work.” This would also have meant digging further into her pockets to buy the water.
A jerry can of water sells at 500/- which would be expensive to water the whole sweet potatoes area of about 12 long terraces. Sarah would need a car to get the water from the tap herself or pay 20,000/- for a twenty litre tanker.
“One day, way back in May, it rained while I weeded maize and as I sheltered at a neighbour’s unfinished house, I wished I had equipment to harvest the rain water that got wasted right there before my eyes,” recalls Sarah.
It did not rain for a long time, but Sarah could not believe all the water that came from the neighbour’s roof got wasted while her garden needed it so badly.
“That’s when the idea of harvesting rain water came to my mind. Since I have decided to engage in agriculture, I will never let water go to waste like this again while I can harvest it for irrigation,” says Sarah.
She plans to put in place two 10,000 litres underground storage tanks to start with.
“I plan to invest in drip irrigation for the method saves a lot of water. With this, I am sure I will have enough water for a long time. I could even buy more storage pumps since we expect to have El Nino rains this time,” says Sarah.
Sarah does not see why there should be famine in Africa while we can save water from even the little rain available.
Engineer Pantaleo Tumbo, a tutor at the Water Development Management Institute concurs. He also sees no reason for people to use Dar es Salaam Water and Sewerage Corporation (DAWASCO) water for irrigation.
“We need to harvest rain water. Using Dawasco water for irrigation is very wrong. People wash cars and water their gardens with Dawasco water. Dawasco water should be left for domestic use only,” he says.
Engineer Tumbo who himself harvests rainwater for both domestic use and gardening says farmers need not be complaining of poor yields resulting from poor rainfall. They could instead use drip irrigation which saves a lot of water for a long time. “With drip irrigation, the water goes directly to the plant and not otherwise. We need to start thinking drip irrigation and the time for harvesting rainwater is now,” says the engineer.
Apart from harvesting rain water, farmers can make good use of the vast water bodies the country is endowed with for irrigation.
Although Tanzania is blessed with many rivers and lakes, water shortage continues to be a problem due to climate variability and poor distribution of the resource. And agriculture continues to largely be rain fed and therefore affected by weather vagaries resulting from climate change.
Engineer Tumbo believes we can make good use of the rains no matter how erratic they get if we invest in rain water harvesting and drip irrigation.
The harvested water can be used both for domestic use and irrigation. “We need to use rain water carefully. Our neighbours in Kenya are using this and are doing very well. They are a good example to follow,” says Engineer Tumbo.
Very few people in Tanzania harvest rain water. And many who do don’t have gutters in their homes. They therefore only harvest little water that lasts for only a short time.
While rainwater harvesting is mandatory in the construction of new buildings in some developed countries, it is not the case in Tanzania.
During the 2010 water week exhibitions in Kibaha, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda, after learning the importance of harvesting rain water directed the then water minister, Prof. Mark Mwandosya to sit with the lands minister to work on this. He wanted the ministers to put by-laws in place to make rain water harvesting mandatory in the construction of new buildings. Unfortunately, this is yet to be effected.
Engineer Tumbo calls upon Tanzanians to take advantage of the forecasted El Nino rains in October to harvest as much water as possible. He advises Tanzanians to install gutters in their homes to avoid water problems.
Investing in gutters doesn’t necessarily have to be costly. Even wooden gutters can do. Given the water problems we face during the dry seasons, installing gutters in our homes can only be a worthwhile investment.
As for Sarah, she even thinks of employing herself in the agriculture sector since she sees a bright future there. She only needs to devote her time, invest some money in rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation and she will be good to go.