Aquacheck, the new technology helping farmers save irrigation water amid drought

Aquacheck soil moisture probe device. PHOTO/Crop Nutrition Services Ltd.
Aquacheck soil moisture probe device. PHOTO/Crop Nutrition Services Ltd.

One year ago, James Nderitu, a farmer, would spend about KSh1300 as labor costs for irrigating his 5-acre farm where he grows vegetables.

Nderitu says his farm would consume about 50,000 liters of irrigation water in a single day.

“There are days during the dry season when I would fail to irrigate because of lack of money to pay farm hands and this had a negative impact on my crops,” said Nderitu.

Kiambu county, 8 miles North of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, is among the biggest suppliers of fresh food produce to the over 5 million residents of East Africa’s economic hub.

With the ever-changing and unreliable rainfall patterns occasioned by climate change, smallholder farmers in Kiambu county had to devise ways of keeping their farms green even during prolonged drought seasons.

Farmers come together in small village groups and build small, low-cost water collection and storage facilities that collect water which they then share to irrigate their farms during dry seasons.

But even with water available for irrigation, farmers still record diminishing harvests during prolonged drought seasons.

Lost nutrients

A study by Crop Nutrition Services Ltd es­tab­lished that the farmers were losing half of their soil nutrients through leaching because of un­mon­itored irrigation.

According to Emmanuel Kibet, a crop nutrition agronomist who led the re­search, farm­ers lost up to 60 percent of nu­tri­ents to the lower soil re­gions where crop roots may not reach. 

“We found out that as much as farmers had devised ways of harvesting water for irrigation, they ended up wasting much of the water due to poor irrigation patterns,” said Kibet.

Kibet notes that unmonitored irrigation led to low pro­ductiv­ity because excess irrigation washed away most nutrients, leaving crops stun­ted.

“In ir­rig­a­tion of 16 cubic meters per acre in one day, there was evid­ence of strong nu­tri­ent leach­ing in all sites, with ni­trates and cal­cium being the most lost at 60cm and 90cm depth consecutivrly,” Kibet explained.

A solution

Kibet led other crop nu­tri­tion ag­ro­nom­ists to come up with an irrigation monitoring device to cure what he describes as “blind ir­rig­a­tion” which he says “does not give farm­ers value for their money.”

The device known as the Aquacheck soil moisture probe helps farmers monitor their soil’s moisture content to help them establish the right times to irrigate and when not to.

“Aquacheck-soil mois­ture probe ensures efficient use of irrigation water by farmers, hence increasing productivity,” Kibet explains.

The device, which has sensors that go up to 10cm inside the soil, can meas­ure mois­ture up to six depths and even bey­ond.

“This al­lows the farmer to know the mois­ture levels all the way down the root­ing depth thus al­low­ing them to de­cide when it is right time to ir­rig­ate and what amounts of water to ir­rig­ate,” Kibet explains.

For the two months Nderitu and his group have been using the Aquacheck tool, they have cut the cost of irrigation by 50%.


“Initially, five acres would cost us some KSh1300 in irrigation labour costs but since we got the tool, we only spent half of that amount,” Nderitu said.

He adds, “On some days we only irrigate once depending on the moisture content in the soil and this saves not only water but also nutrients from being wasted through excess water.”

A farmer irrigating cabbages. PHOTO/Wusme.
A farmer irrigating cabbages. PHOTO/Wusme.

Mary Rugene, a tomato farmer, says efficient use of water and irrigating only when the soil needs water has helped them keep their farms green and increase their harvest.

“This tool has helped us deal with the problem of water scarcity because we only irrigate when necessary,” she said.

“We are also witnessing increased harvests in our farms, and this means more income for us,” Ms. Rugene added.

Aquacheck is in­stalled in the soil where it keeps track of the amount of avail­able water mois­ture against soil particles at a two-hour in­ter­vals.

The data is sent to a com­puter or a smartphone and can be presen­ted in graphs and text messages. 

Training, future plans

A total of 10,000 smallholder farmers have been trained in data interpretation.

Kibet says there are plans to scale out the use of the tool across Kenya, especially in arid and semi-arid areas.

“With this technology, we can have Kenyan farms produce enough food to feed the nation through irrigation agriculture even during the dry seasons,” he concluded.

YOU CAN ALSO READ: How youth-innovated mobile platform is revolutionizing Kenya’s food production, security

 They can be reached on: 

Crop Nutrition Laboratory Services, Limuru, off Limuru road, P.O. Box 66437-00800 Nairobi – Kenya 

+254 711 094 444 / or

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Jackson Okata is a freelance journalist with experience in both broadcast, print and online journalism. His areas of interest are Climate Change, Environment, Agribusiness, Technology, and Gender Empowerment. His contact:


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