UPGro Early Career Researchers: Q&A with Suleiman Mwakurya

Suleiman Mwakurya worked as a research assistant on the Gro for GooD project in Kenya, based out of the Rural Focus field office in Kwale. He recently took on a new role working for the Kwale County Government. Gro for GooD Co-I Patrick Thomson caught up with him to find out about his new job.

PT: What is your current job now and how does it links back to your work with Gro for GooD?

SM: I started work as Superintendent Geologist for Kwale County Government at the end of 2018. My main role is carrying out hydrogeological surveys for the county government, and I’m also involved in supervision of the drilling machinery owned by the County, supervising the drilling crew and managing the rig. When I’m not in the field, I’m in the office working on project management and evaluating tenders for drilling of new boreholes. We are overwhelmed with boreholes! Everyone is coming to the county government asking for help with the drilling machine – more people want boreholes – we have a backlog of over 100 boreholes so we have been tendering some of this work to private contractors. I’m involved in designing of programmes of works for these contractors – how and where they are going to drill, installation and how management will be handed over to the county government. I also do some installation of solar pumps, electric pumps and handpumps. I really thank UPGro in general, and the whole Gro for GooD fraternity… as the project certainly equipped me with some of the skills which I’m currently using, including handpump repair and installation.

PT: How has Gro for GooD research influenced the development and management of groundwater resources in Kwale County?

SM: The County doesn’t have a lot of resources for groundwater development and groundwater monitoring. We have been drilling boreholes but we don’t have data. Hydrogeologists like Mike Lane and Professor Dan Olago can help the County with the kind of information, data and expertise that they have in terms of groundwater management. Capacity building and training for county staff is also useful. The County is working on the World Bank funded Kwale County Water Supply Master Plan and we are in the initial stages of this for the three major towns – Ukunda, Msambweni and Kwale—targeting the palaeochannels [water-bearing geological features located by the Gro for GooD project]. We are through with 28 exploratory boreholes and have the results, so are now preparing to drill a number of production boreholes. The timing will depend on the procurement process but hopefully drilling will commence in 2020. The first step will be to drill three boreholes in Kinondo, which are the ones that are going to be used to supply Ukunda town. After that we hope to drill another three boreholes in Msambweni and Milalani to supply Msambweni.

Drilling in Kwale Country (credit: Mike Lane)

PT: Tell us about your time with UPGro.

SM: I worked on the Gro for GooD project for about two and a half years. I was based in the field office in Bomani, Kwale County and was closely involved with the water quality research – sampling and recording data at 49 sampling sites every fortnight. I also assisted on the geophysical surveys, household surveys and surface water monitoring. Actually the skills I acquired at UPGro have made a big improvement in my career, particularly the experience of working on geophysical surveys and groundwater monitoring. I also had training and experience with organisation and interpretation of data as the project collected a large volume of data on groundwater, rainfall, surface water and water quality. Calvince [Wara – Research Manager at the Bomani field office] was a very good mentor for me and helped me develop skills in data management and analysis. Working with the Gro for GooD project has also inspired me on the welfare side – the household surveys made me aware of issues for people around here who face difficulty with water supplies. In densely populated areas, we see many people queueing up to use the same handpump. I have been developing proposals to upgrade some handpumps to solar pumps.

PT: What are your plans for the future?

SM: I have a passion for hydrogeology and I’m happy that the Gro for GooD project helped me develop this passion. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Geology from the University of Nairobi in 2013. I started working as a drilling supervisor and then I joined the UPGro project and it has really opened up how I look at hydrogeology and groundwater. I learnt a lot of things from it. I’ve been looking into applying for an MSc programme maybe in Hydrogeology, or perhaps Geophysics or Hydrogeochemistry.