A new dawn for irrigation in Kenya: a review of the proposed irrigation’s regulations 2020.

Mr. George Nyamu (Head of Policy Division)

Kenya has not fully developed her irrigation potential estimated at 1.342 million hectares. The country has only developed approximately 180,503 ha of irrigation which is about 13.5% of the potential. The land under irrigation accounts for 1.7 percent of total land area under agriculture, and contributes about 3% to the gross domestic product (GDP).

Kenya’s irrigation sub-sector development has remained largely untapped despite immense potential. This is attributed to the many developmental constraints and challenges facing the sub-sector. The purpose of the Irrigation Act, 2019 is to provide for the development, management and regulation of irrigation, to support sustainable food security and socioeconomic development in Kenya, and for connected purposes.

To facilitate the implementation of the Act, a set of regulations are proposed with specific provisions that will contribute to the effective implementation of the Act.

The key provisions of the proposed irrigation regulations, 2020 are:

  1. Promote Irrigation development

The regulations provide principles, guidelines and standards for promoting irrigation development within the context of the National Irrigation Master plan, Investment plan and respective Strategic plans through efficient utilization of irrigation water; promoting water harvesting and storage measures and use of recycled waste water for irrigation, streamlining organization of the irrigation sub-sector,  professionalization of all irrigation services including feasibility studies design, construction and operation, compliance with all relevant statutory requirements; compliance to quality standards; effective monitoring and evaluation of irrigation schemes; construction  and operation by the National irrigation Authority; and  participatory and sustainable irrigation development. 

The regulations also propose that all areas deemed suitable for irrigation purposes be designated and gazetted as irrigation areas and impose requirements or prohibit developments, practices or activities considered necessary for the protection of such areas.

The regulations require that all irrigation schemes and actors be registered and licensed.  These provisions will enable registration and coordination of all irrigation developments in the country and provide real time data on irrigation development, acreage and production, water requirements, actors, etc, to inform subsequent and evidence-based planning in the sub-sector.

The regulations provide guidelines to promote irrigation schemes management to ensure transparency, accountability, efficiency and water saving practices. The regulations propose for the formation of national public irrigation scheme management committees, and county public irrigation Scheme Management Committees, and defines the tenure rights, obligations of irrigation users and guidelines for the management of schemes by Irrigation Water Users Associations (IWUAs).


The regulations require that irrigation infrastructure and water for irrigation purposes meet approved quality standards including the use of recycled waste water for irrigation. They also prescribe periodic water quality testing as to verify compliance to the required quality standards. They defines the quality standards for discharge water from irrigation schemes to ensure that ground and surface water are not polluted for adequacy protection of aquatic life and other ecosystem services.

Compliance with these standards will ensure high quality irrigation infrastructure that will guarantee users and public, livestock, wildlife and the environment safety, efficient to operate and with low maintenance costs, as well as better safety of food produced under irrigation and better health for irrigation labour and the population

The regulations prescribe, monitoring, evaluation and performance audits by the National and County Governments for all individuals or entities carrying out irrigation or providing irrigation services; for compliance to these Regulations and other relevant laws. They propose for the establishment of manual and/or web based Integrated Irrigation and Drainage management information system that shall be established and maintained. This will be an irrigation data repository that will provide real time data and information on irrigation, the actors and status to inform future policy development and planning, and investment planning.

The regulations identify prohibited activities and practices that constitute an offence under the regulations including willful or animal damage of irrigation infrastructure, destructive activities in the schemes, cause fire or refuse to extinguish fires, apply prohibited chemicals,  abstracting water  without authorization, operate an irrigation scheme without an irrigation license, reside in, carry on business in, or occupy any part of a national public or strategic irrigation scheme without a valid permit, erect a structure or building without consent of the supervising authority in writing etc.

The proposed irrigation regulations 2020, also provides for alternative models for the development of national public or strategic schemes by private entities, opening the door for Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) in irrigation development. This will allow the private sector to mobilize resources for irrigation infrastructure development to compliment government resources.

The regulations also recognize the critical role of County Governments in agricultural and irrigation development and provide for the establishment of County Irrigation Development Units to carry out irrigation development   functions in the Counties. These units will allow each individual county to prioritize her own irrigation priorities and investments and provide necessary support for irrigation development and management at the local or county level while also providing a strong link between the two levels of Governments on irrigation matters.

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