Our partners in southeast Kenya, the Africa Sand Dam Foundation (ASDF), meet Benson Wambua, a 29-year-old member of Kinyenyoni Kakuswi self-help group (SHG) from Ngitini village in Makueni County. Despite a long journey to success, he has now gained great benefits from watermelon farming; made possible thanks to the availability of water through the sand dam projects in his area.

The area from which Benson hails is prone to inadequate and unreliable rainfall patterns which often result in poor farm yields. Having disappointing results from his initial trials in farming, he resorted to the “motorcycle business” which is common among young adults in his neighbourhood.

Benson Wambua

“I had tried a lot to farm but it was not easy for me, so I started out as a broker, buying crops from other people’s farms and selling them to clients in the urban areas. Through the profits gained, I bought a motorcycle and began using it as a transportation business,” says Benson (pictured above).

However, this could barely meet Benson’s needs as his daily income would range between 300-400 Kenyan shillings (KES) a day (or £3-£4 GBP). For that reason, he embarked fully on the fruit vending and brokerage business which kept him busy during the day, continuing the transportation business at night. With time and restored hope, he decided to attempt farming on a small plot of land which was adjacent to the local river.

“I used to dig very deep scoop holes, around 8 feet deep, to get water for my tomatoes. The water table was very low and the river’s capacity to retain water especially during the dry seasons was null,” he recalls.

In 2015, following months of hard work, he got his first substantial income of KES 20,000 (around £150) from the sale of tomatoes alone. Influenced by his farming friends, he then attempted to farm watermelons with great results, earning himself an income of KES 68,000. It was progress, but for a real step-change, Benson and his community needed nearby access to much more water, and this came in 2017 when the group completed the construction of their first sand dam. Now with ample water close to his home, Benson expanded his watermelon farm from a quarter of an acre to three acres of land. His harvests were extremely profitable, garnering him new valuable clients and contracts. He sold all his watermelons (see below) and earned KES 498,000 (around £3,800).

“At first, I was hesitant, but farming melons has proved to be the best decision I ever made. Upon my first mega sale, I was very proud of myself. I now know the value of water in our region more than ever. These sand dam projects were a savior to me and the younger generation,” a smiling Benson stated.

For Benson and his family, the watermelon farming has boosted their living standards unbelievably. Through the business, he has managed to purchase a car (so he can transport produce to different markets), seven cows, six goats and many chickens; he now even has a five-year plan where he envisages a fruitful future through his farming. For him, the sand dam projects have brought a lot of changes and improvements in his community. There are more employment opportunities for the young adults and their chances of improved living standards are higher than ever imagined.

Benson’s wife, Dorcus (pictured above), concludes: “I feel very good and comfortable. Since the sand dam projects were constructed along our riverbed, we are always busy. When Benson married me, there were a lot of things that we did not have, we were living hand to mouth. Through this project, we earn a good income and our livelihoods have really improved. Honestly, that project means a lot to us.”

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