The role of irrigation on improvement of food availability and nutrition status of children aged 6 - 59 months: a case study of Kieni East Division of Nyeri District, Kenya
Over dependence on rain-fed agriculture is one of the major problems in Kenya's agricultural sector. Irrigation, use of fertiliser and improved crop varieties have been identified as the key inputs for increasing crop yields. Given that about 80 percent of the country's land surface falls under arid and semi-arid areas and majority of the population living in rural areas depend on agriculture for their livelihood, irrigation is inevitable. However, what is not clear is the role of irrigation water on household food security and nutritional status per se. This study investigated the role of irrigation on improvement of household food security and nutritional status. The study was conducted in Kieni East division of Nyeri district; an area of high agricultural potential but aridity hinders its exploitation. The Nyeri Dry Area Smallholder Community Services Development Project has been involved in provision of irrigation water in the study area with the aim of raising food production and improving the nutritional status of the target population. Two random sub-samples that consisted of 59 households each were selected. They comprised of project households (those with access to irrigation water) and non-project households (those without access to irrigation water). Agricultural production data was based on production figures of the year 2000, while the 24- hour dietary recall determined dietary energy and nutrient intake. Food security was assessed in terms of household dietary energy adequacy ratio and proportion of income spent on food. Households whose energy adequacy ratio was below 0.8 or who spent more than 60 percent of income on food were considered food insecure. Anthropometric measurements were used to assess the nutritional status of children aged 6 - 59 months. Provision of irrigation water increased crop yields such that the average maize yield in the project households (141.1kg/acre) was 3.2 times more than that of non-project, which was 44.2kg/acre; the difference was significant. It can be concluded that irrigation has led to a shift from subsistence to commercial farming since significantly more project households than non-project households engaged in commercial farming. Commercial farming was found to have a positive effect on income levels. The number of non-commercial farming households below the rural poverty line (KSh. 1240) was three times significantly more that of commercial farming households. However, improvement of income In commercial farming does not appear to have a significant influence on household food security. Although the prevalence of underweight and stunting in the project households (3% and 10% respectively) was lower than in non-project households, which was 10% and 17%, there was no significant difference. This implies that provision of water in Kieni East division has not lead to a significant improvement of nutritional status of young children. However, since children from the project households were better off, it can be concluded that irrigation has contributed to protection of nutritional status. There is need for further research because the impact of irrigation could have been misrepresented, since the reference period was characterised by drought, which subsequently affected availability of water.