Mr Innocent Ariemba Ateka is the Manager at Mwea Irrigation Scheme. He has a Bachelor of Science in Soil Water and Environmental Engineering, a Diploma in Agricultural Engineering and is pursuing a Master’s in Environmental Engineering, all from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT). Mr. Ariemba has more than 20 years of experience in irrigation engineering.

How would you describe yourself?

I am a team-player who respect authority and driven by the desire to make change and a positive impact in the lives of people.

How was it growing up?

I grew up in a settlement scheme, Ekerubo sub-location, Kahawa village, Nyamira County in a family of five. I am the first-born. We stayed in Kahawa until I was in Form Two, then moved to Mukomini because of cattle rustling.

I came from a relatively well-off family. My father was a high school teacher and my mother a primary school teacher. They were also farmers and had allocated every one of us farm duties. A cow was assigned to each of us, hence every morning we would wake up and milk them before leaving for school. In the evening, we would do some weeding and other farm duties such as plucking tea, which I really disliked.

Best memories growing up?

Playing football in the rain. I also loved sneaking to go swimming. This would sometimes land us in trouble, especially when we came back home late and we’d get a thorough whipping.

Tell us about your schooling…

I partially schooled at Kahawa Primary School from Class One to Five then transferred to Kiabonyoru Primary School where I sat for my KCPE. My performance earned me a space at St. Paul’s Gekano Boys High School where I equally did well enough to qualify for a spot in JKUAT to undertake a Diploma in Agricultural Engineering. I was finally going to set foot in the city.

How was your first journey to Nairobi?

It was very exciting (smiling)! I did not sleep on the night to departure. Growing up in the village, I had never boarded a bus. We used matatus where people sat facing one another.
The streets of Nairobi were fascinating. I was amazed by the sceneries, the tall buildings and at some instances I would stop, stare and scan the environment. It was all new. “Young man, keep walking,” my dad would tell me. He had accompanied me for registration.

How was your experience in JKUAT?

JKUAT was like a village. (He pauses to reminisce) I gradually adapted and could stay the entire semester without setting foot in Nairobi City Centre. My pocket money was limiting; I had to manage it wisely. During my free time I would take evening walks with friends and occasionally played basketball.

How has your experience growing up moulded you into the person you are today?

Growing up, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, but as nature has it, I found myself in agricultural engineering. As time went by, I have come to love it and I think it’s because I was brought up in a family that loved farming. My parents are very strict. Hard work, honesty and discipline were some of the virtues they instilled in us. These values have built the person I am today. I am passing it down to the next generation.

How did you join the job market?

I secured my first employment in 2000 at a flower farm under James Finlay Company in Kericho, worked there for about a year then moved to a sister company in tea processing as a technical staff. I worked there for another one year before moving to Delamere Estates in Naivasha where I was in charge of irrigation. I was there from late 2002 to 2005.

In 2005 August, I joined the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) as a Water Management Technician and was posted to Perkerra Irrigation Scheme. Come December that year, I was transferred to Bunyala Irrigation Scheme as the Officer in Charge. I worked there until 2010. I then took a study leave for four years to study a Bachelor of Science in Soil Water and Environmental Engineering. After completion, I came back and was stationed at the Head Office in the beginning of 2014. I worked at the Head Office for 5 months after which I was posted to Mwea as the Scheme Manager in July 2014.

For the better part of my career, I have been in the NIA. This is as a result of the constant growth I have gotten through the support of my colleagues. The staff are very committed towards transforming this country. Let us keep the spirit.

Describe your typical day.

On Mondays, I wake up at around 4:00am, study for an hour, get ready for work and leave the house at around 5.30am to report to work at the head office. Later in the day, I travel to Mwea.

From Tuesday to Friday, I wake up at around 3:00am, take around 30 minutes going through my daily programme, then start my work (design and technical issues) in my home office to around 7:00am. I then take a shower and walk to the office. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I dedicate time to farmers and handle their issues. I spend Wednesdays and Fridays tending to scheme activities. In the evening, I get to socialise with friends and retire to bed at around 8:00pm. During farmers’ days, we have the arbitration committees chaired by the Deputy County Commissioners.

What is you biggest accomplishment?

I have been able to achieve quite a number of milestones; I pioneered irrigation expansion in the schemes. When I was posted to Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, the area under irrigation was around 530 acres and when leaving in 2010, it was at 1,700 acres. This was achieved despite having a limited budget. I worked with Eng. Vincent Kabuti, OGW, the Deputy General Manager (Planning and Strategy) at the Authority, in the expansion of the schemes when he was in Western Kenya schemes.

I have also done irrigation expansion in Mwea Irrigation Scheme from 20,000 acres to around 28,400 acres and introduced a second cropping season. This seemed unachievable because of the scheme being a water-deficit scheme.

I have also reengineered the Mwea Guest House to become a viable enterprise. I have been able to uplift the image of the National Irrigation Authority in Mwea by upgrading the infrastructure and facilities, creating harmony between the key stakeholders especially the Irrigation Water Users Association (IWUAs) and Mwea Rice Growers Multipurpose Co-operative Society (MRGM). I have been able to cultivate a motivated and dedicated team especially the IWUAS, MRGM and the staff to work in mutual respect unlike before. This has enabled us to achieve a lot together.

I have also successfully steered the Settlement Implementation Unit for the Mwea Irrigation Development Project, under my leadership, and operations have been running smoothly.

Additionally, I have designed and supervised the construction of Unyunyizi Annex (a new building in the Head office) successfully to its completion.

What does the completion of Thiba Dam mean for Mwea Irrigation Scheme?

Mwea is a water-deficit scheme. The completion of Thiba Dam will enable us to adequately supply water to the existing acreage as well as the 10,000-acre expansion underway and ensure double cropping effectively. It is a step in the right direction.

Any challenges encountered along the way?

Resources have always been limited but we have managed to fully use what we have been allocated, sometimes with very strict timelines. Political interference in the scheme is also sometimes tedious.

Most interesting thing encountered in the line of work?

That has to be the kind of infrastructure I saw in Japan in 2016 during a work trip. The way they do their dams for water harvesting to satisfy their water requirements, the way their roads are done…they are very organised.

Secondly, the overwhelming support from the CEO Mr Gitonga Mugambi, EBS, and his dedication to push staff to the best version of themselves.

Advise to the young professionals entering the job market?

At work, you have no choice but to be outstanding. Stay dedicated to your work and always seek fresh knowledge to sharpen your skills and, most importantly, respect authority. Your seniors play a huge role in your growth. No effort goes unrewarded.

How do you manage your personal and professional life?

I believe I have not been able to balance that aspect very well. I am more inclined to work, and personal and family projects. I have very limited time with my family given that I am away from them five days a week and sometimes travel to attend to personal and family projects during the weekends. I believe what I am doing is good for the family. I also try as much as I can to be with my family during the weekend. My wife has played a key role by filling the parenting gap whenever I am away. Just so you know, I’m happily married and a father of four boys.

Any remarks on retirement?

We should prepare and be ready that at one point we will exit. Time flies, so work every day like you are retiring tomorrow. To ensure you survive during the retirement period, you need to find a way of ensuring you are able to get at least a minimum of half of what you earn as an employee. Early retirement is better so that you start doing your things when you still have the energy.

Do you read?

I do. A lot. Professional and motivational material. I like the work of Robin Sharma, especially The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. My best read is Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

Do you believe in giving back to the society?

I believe that the hand that giveth is the hand that receiveth. Personally, I support needy students in in Mwea. Currently, I am sponsoring a girl through her secondary education in Karoti Girls High School in Kirinyaga. She was not able to go to school in her first year because of lack of school fees. I took her up and requested the principal to allow her to go in the following year; she is doing very well. I also support needy cases in my village in a similar manner. I am supporting five students in their education.

Parting shot

Strive to make some impact by transforming the country. Make it an individual responsibility. Let the change begin with you.