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Water management, policies and legislation related to water use in agriculture


Overall responsibility for water management lies with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries (MALF), replacing the former Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI), and even before the Ministry of Water Resources Management and Development (MWRMD), established by the Water Act 2002. Within the MALF:

  • The Irrigation and Drainage Directorate (IDD) is responsible for the overall coordination of irrigation and specifically for smallholder irrigation development (MALF, 2015).
  • The National Irrigation Board (NIB) was formed in 1966 through the Irrigation Act (cap. 347) to manage the public irrigation schemes. It was the successor to the agency that was responsible during the colonial era for establishing and managing the large-scale public irrigation schemes, including Mwea Hola, Perkerra, West Kano, Ahero and Bunyala schemes. It expanded over time to include private community-based schemes.

Before the 2010 Constitution, the IDD was responsible for policy and planning while the NIB was responsible for implementation. However the 2010 Constitution devolved both planning and implementation to local counties, at least for the projects they finance but this is yet not fully in place (WB, 2014). Counties can identify themselves the leading institution responsible for the local irrigation development (MAFL, 2015).

Other Ministries related to water include:

  • Ministries of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, for control of pollution of water bodies and the prevention of water-related hazards
  • Ministry of Energy
  • the National Treasury
  • Ministry of Devolution and Planning
  • Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development
  • Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development, and
  • Ministry of Health (MALF, 2015).

There are also a number of other institutions dealing with water management at national level:

  • The Water Resources Management Authority WARMA responsible for the allocation of water and delivery of water permits
  • The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA)

At sub-national level, the six Regional Development Authorities (RDAs), based on the main river basins of the country, have the responsibility to plan, coordinate, promote investment for integrated natural resource use, including irrigation projects. There is therefore duplication of functions between MALF and both its IDD and NIB, and the RDAs (MALF, 2015).

In relation to water supply and sanitation, the responsible agencies are (Republic of Kenya, 2014):

  • The Water Services Regulatory Board (WASREB)
  • The National Water Conservation and Pipeline Corporation (NWCPC)
  • The Kenya Water Institute (KEWI)
  • The Regional Water Services Boards (WSBs).

Institutions dealing with research on irrigation and drainage include the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and the Tegemeo Institute at Egerton University.

Water management

Before the 1990s, the NIB was central at every stage of irrigated agriculture: water conveyance, land preparation, inputs supply, marketing and processing. Since the late 1990s, an Irrigation Management Transfer (IMT) is implemented in public schemes to transfer operation and maintenance responsibilities to the farmers through Irrigation Water Users Associations (IWUAs). In community-based irrigation schemes, the group of farmers sharing a common irrigation system are grouped in IWUAs operating usually at scheme level with responsibilities on development, operation and maintenance of irrigation infrastructures, that can be expanded to agricultural supply and marketing (MALF, 2015).

Water allocation is performed by WRMA, who deliver water permits only after ecological and basic human needs, international treaties and inter-basin water transfers, reserve and domestic water demands have been met (WRMA, 2013).

There is currently a lack of comprehensive knowledge on the number and extent of irrigation schemes within the country, due to inadequate monitoring mechanisms and structures in place in water management especially of the traditional form of irrigation using flood water.


Government investment in irrigation development is low, but represents 70 percent of the total sub-sector budget. The remaining funds originate from development partners and the private sector. The 2013/2014 government contribution is however only a quarter of what is required to meet the targets of Vison 2030, estimated at 40 billion/year Kenyan shillings (MALF, 2015). The government grant to the water sector, which amounts to around 3 percent of the total government budget, is in its main part directed towards the irrigation sub-sector (WRMA, 2013).

Collection of water fees in public irrigation schemes does not cover the operation and maintenance required. In 2007, the water fee in irrigation was Ks 50cents/m³ for the 1st 300 m³/day, similar to the domestic, public and livestock uses, and 75 cents for the part over 300 m³/day (WRMA, 2011).

The average cost of irrigation development is estimated at:

  • US$ 15 000/ha for new public schemes with storage,
  • US$ 10 000/ha for new public schemes without storage or new community-based scheme with storage,
  • US$ 5 000/ha for new community-based scheme without storage.

The cost of rehabilitation is estimated at US$ 2 500/ha (WB, 2014).

Policies and legislation

The 2010 Constitution of Kenya is concerned with international waters and water resources (Fourth Schedule, Part 1 Clause 2), as well as protection of the environment and natural resources, in particular “water protection, securing sufficient residual water, hydraulic engineering and safety of dams” (Clause 22c.) (MALF, 2015).

Legislations specifically related to water and irrigation are under review. The National Policy on Water Resources Management and Development of Kenya was developed in 1999 and used as a basis for the 2002 Water Act (WRMA, 2013). The latter reformed the water sector with a view to improve efficiency by separating policy making and policy implementation with among other institutions the creation of the WRMA and WASREB, i.e. water management and water services delivery (MWI, 2012).

The irrigation sub-sector is governed by the 1966 Irrigation Act (Chapter 347), which does not reflect the realities anymore, in particular the community-based and commercial irrigation. But the 2015 Irrigation Bill Draft intends to bring the irrigation legislation up to date (MALF, 2015).

Policies on water and irrigation have been updated more recently. In between the two National Water Master Plans, the one of 1992 and its update of 2013, there also has been a National Water Resources Management Strategy 2006-2008 (WRMA, 2013b). In addition, a 2015 Draft National Irrigation Policy is currently under preparation. It will adopt principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM), environment management plans and agricultural water management strategy, including rainwater harvesting.

On water and sanitation, the following strategies apply: the National Water Quality Management Strategy 2012-2016 (MWI, 2012) and the National Water Services Strategy 2007-2015.


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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