Mwea-Tebere Irrigation Scheme

Land reclamation is the practice of converting less useful land into more useful land. This can be accomplished by draining swamps, irrigating dry land, removing pests from an area, and draining a lake.

Land rehabilitation is the process of reclaiming land that has been abused and destroyed. In Kenya, irrigation schemes have been established in the Mwea settlement scheme, Hola, Bura, West Kano, Ahero, Perkerra, and Bunyala communities.

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Kenya’s physical requirements for irrigation farming

  1. Gently sloping land that allows gravity flow of water
  2. Presence of permanent rivers that provide consistent and abundant water supply 
  3. Availability of extensive land for land-scale crop cultivation
  4. Availability of soils rich in mineral nutrients to support a variety of crops
  5. Black cotton soils that retain water for an extended period of time
  6. Warm weather conducive to crop growth
  7. Some areas, such as Perkerra, are semi-arid, necessitating irrigation farming.


This is Kenya’s largest and most successful irrigation scheme, covering approximately 10,000 hectares. It is situated in Kirinyaga County’s Mwea Plains. 

Irrigation water is drawn from the rivers Nyamindi, Murubara, and Thiba, which are all tributaries of the Tana. During the emergency period of the 1950s, the scheme was established as a means of utilizing free labour provided by Mau Mau detainees. 

The scheme’s original location was at Nguka, a flooding point on the Thiba River. This was the first block (Mwea Block). Thiba and Wamumu, two other blocks, were established to the south. 

Later, a fourth block (Tebere) was established to utilize the waters of the River Nyamindi.

Factors that influenced the Mwea Tebere irrigation scheme’s location.

  • The presence of three permanent rivers—Thiba, Murubara, and Nyamindi—provide a consistent and abundant supply of water for irrigation.
  • The plateau creates a gently sloping land surface that allows water to flow naturally.
  • The presence of black cotton soil, which is suitable for rice cultivation due to its ability to retain water.
  • The area’s warm climatic conditions encourage rice cultivation.
  • The area receives low annual rainfall ranging between 635mm and 1270mm, falling only in April/May and October/November, making irrigation necessary.
  • The Mwea plains were sparsely populated because they had previously been used as communal grazing land.
  • The presence of loamy soils allowed for the cultivation of other crops to support the families who had settled in the area.
  • The colonial government’s urgent need to establish a project to occupy the Mau Mau detainees.
  • The need to resettle landless people from central Kenya who had been displaced by white settlers.

The scheme’s organization

The scheme is supplied with water by the National Irrigation Board (NIB), but it has been managed by the Mwea Rice Growers Multi-purpose Co-operative Society since 1999.

The total area under irrigation is 5,784 hectares, providing a living for over 8,000 people from Aberdare and the Eastern Regions.

Each farmer was given 1.6 hectares of land, with the option to rent more. Each farmer has a 0.04-hectare permanent nursery. 

After 5 weeks, seedlings are transplanted when they are about 15 cm tall. Rice matures and is harvested after 5 months.

Cultivation At Mwea-Tebere Irrigation Scheme

Bunks or ridges surround the plots to hold water. There are canals dug from the main river canal that lead water into the plots. Because of the low-lying terrain, water flows by gravity and machinery is easily used. 

The paddy field is flooded to a depth of 10 cm, and ploughing is done with tractors hired from the National Irrigation Board.

Each tenant is responsible for planting, weeding, reaping, and threshing his or her crop. 

The threshed rice is then collected by the cooperative society, which is in charge of transporting it to the three major collecting points, Tebere, Mwea, and Thiba.

Individual holdings can record yields of up to 14 bags per hectare (58 bags per acre.) Rice is processed in Mwea by the numerous mills that have been built in the area.

Reasons for the Mwea Tebere Irrigation Scheme’s Success

a) The German government’s initial assistance, in the form of technical know-how and machinery, resulted in increased acreage under irrigation.

b) The Tana-Thiba and Nyamindi tributaries of the River Tana-Thiba rise from the wet slopes of Mt. Kenya, ensuring a consistent and abundant water supply for irrigation.

c) Because of the shape of the 4,000 hectares (10,000 acres) Mwea plains (a gently sloping land), the land can be irrigated from river Thiba run-off without the need for storage facilities.

d) The high demand for Mwea Rice encourages farmers to plant the crop year after year.

e) Land that was once barren and unproductive has now been put to productive use.

f) Good management has ensured high standards of discipline among the tenants, which is essential for the success of a scheme of this type.

The scheme’s advantages.

a) It saves the country money in the form of foreign exchange. The scheme produces foodstuffs (rice) that could have been imported, thereby saving foreign exchange that could have been spent on imports.

b) The creation of new job opportunities. Many people have found work in rice farming and other related industries.

c) Enhanced food production. The scheme has met the country’s rice requirements.

d) Reclamation of underutilized land. This has contributed to a reduction in the demand for available natural resources.

e) Settlement- The Mwea-Tebere irrigation scheme provided settlement to people who would otherwise be landless, such as the Mau Mau detainees.

f) Flood control. During the rainy season, the dams kept floods at bay.

g) Productivity diversification. Farmers are able to diversify production, and the area now produces horticultural crops successfully.

h) Economic progress. The scheme has resulted in the overall development of the previously undeveloped land. Rice is used as a raw material in rice mills.

Problems Facing Famers At Mwea-Tebere Irrigation Scheme

a) Illnesses The stagnant water encourages the breeding of snails and mosquitoes, which transmit disease to humans. Quelea birds feed on rice, causing significant losses and low yields.

Siltation is a term used to describe the process of removing sound from a space Weeds growing in canals cause siltation, which disrupts the flow of water into the field.

d) A scarcity of water. Unplanned irrigation development has overstretched the water supply, which was designed to serve 15,000 acres but now serves more than 27,000 acres.

e) A labour shortage. This is most noticeable during planting and harvesting when farmers are forced to hire expensive labour.

f) Payment was delayed. This kills farmer morale as a result of cooperative mismanagement.

g) Soils that are unsuitable. Some areas’ soil is unsuitable for rice cultivation.

h) A lack of social amenities. Because health centres are insufficient, patients must travel long distances, resulting in lost work hours.

I Inadequate access roads. This raises the cost of rice transportation.

j) Financial mismanagement. Cases of mismanagement have emerged in the scheme over the years.

Because they cannot generate enough revenue to operate efficiently, the mills are forced to operate at less than full capacity.

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