Kenya: How North Rift Pastoralists Are Tackling Food Insecurity

Elderly Samburu women patiently wait for the distribution of relief food at Maral (file photo).

Dependence on relief food because of recurrent food shortages in the North Rift region could be a thing of the past as residents have embraced irrigation to tackle food insecurity.

The Kerio Valley Development Authority [KVDA] is spending at least Sh300 million for irrigation projects in a bid to boost food security as a permanent solution to food shortages in the region.

The projects include Weiwei and Lomut in West Pokot, Chepkuk and Kamusuwet in Elgeyo Marakwet and Napuu in Turkana County.

The authority has also opened honey processing plants in Baringo and mangoe factories in Tot in Elgeyo Marakwet.

Mr Francis Loree, who owns land at the Napuu irrigation scheme inTurkana County, says the project was a stroke of genius to a region that has often been hit by famine.

"We have often suffered the effects of drought. Now, with this plan we finally have a hope of ensuring a steady food supply in the area," said Mr Loree.

Mr Ekwom Ng'asike, also from the Napuu scheme, is a 55-year-old former cattle rustler who turned to farming after his entire herd was stolen.

"The government cannot give us food on a daily basis. We have been relying on relief food for decades and we continue crying of hunger every day," said Mr Ng'asike.

The father of four says other reformed warriors are also part of the quest to make farming a thriving economic activity in the area.

"After venturing into agriculture, the going was not easy because it's a field that I had little knowledge about. At one point I thought of giving up, but I had no other source of livelihood for my family," said Mr Joseph Ekitela, another farmer also in the same scheme.

They are cultivating maize, sorghum, finger millet and various types of vegetables.

"We have enough food supplies, and we can now afford to take our children to school from the revenue we make from the crops. What I have achieved is huge, and I have never regretted diversifying into crop production," said Mr Ekitela.

The Weiwei Farmers Association Chairperson Mark Meut said they are expecting to get 1.2 million kilograms of maize this planting season.

"Right now we sell maize in Nairobi, Kitale, Eldoret, Kisumu, Kakamega, Lodwar and Mombasa," he said.

In Elgeyo Marakwet, Mr Daniel Suter, a farmer at Kasumuwet Farmers association said ongoing initiatives will also help end rampant cases of cattle rustling in the region which has significantly contributed to slow development.

"We have never looked back since going into irrigation farming after losing most of our animals to cattle rustlers and drought. Cereal and vegetable cultivation has proved to be a wonderful investment in the region," Mr Suter said.

KVDA Managing Director Sammy Naporos said the area has the potential to produce enough food for the residents, as well as have enough surplus to sell.

"The irrigation project is one way of solving the conflict between the Pokot and Turkana communities and it will reduce the number of people who depend on relief food. This enhances cohesion, children will now go to school because the food from the farm will be feeding learners, very soon we will be surprised the County turning into being a food basket of this country," said Mr Naporos.

He said that at least 1200 households in West Pokot County are set to benefit from a Sh59 million Lomut irrigation project being undertaken by the Government through Kerio Valley Development Authority [K.V.D.A] to boost agriculture for local residents.

Mr Naporos said that they have set aside 800 acres of land along river Lomut for agriculture to relieve food dependency syndrome after the completion of the project in May.

He pointed out that the components of water intake, search tanks and segmentation tanks are a pipeline of 9 kilometer.

The KVDA boss said the organisation had also provided fishing gear to fishermen to boost fishing activities in Lake Turkana.

He said the lake was abundant with fish resources, which required more exploitation to improve incomes and livelihoods of residents.

He said the authority has also equipped locals with modern farming methods to ensure the area became a food secure zone. He also observed that Turkana North had a potential environment for beekeeping.

"We will introduce beekeeping in the area and then buy the honey from farmers," he said.

Mr Naporos noted that the projects in Pokot Central and Marakwet West have a total of 130 acres with 150 farmers benefiting.

Sigor MP Peter Lochakapong said the irrigation project is a massive one as it will transform the lives of the people of Lomut.

"There is no doubt that this project will change the lives of people in Lomut as they will not rely on rains for growing their crops," said Mr Lochakapong.

The MP said through rain-fed farming, small-scale farmers in Lomut will supply tomatoes, mangoes, watermelon and bananas to markets as far as Chesegon, Masol and Muino , stating that with the coming in of the project farmers will increase their crop variety that will enable them to export to neighboring countries.

West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo said that farmers in the area are earning millions from last season's harvest of maize, sorghum, bananas, fruit and vegetables.

"The project has proved successful by providing food security and sustainable income generation to communities that have experienced recurrent starvation," said Prof Lonyangapuo.

The county chief said the Weiwei irrigation scheme has helped improve the living standards of residents since they are able to sell their produce.

KVDA board Chairperson Jackson Kiptanui said the authority would also equip locals with modern farming methods to ensure the area became a food secure zone adding that the project will go on as planned.

"Weiwei irrigation scheme is doing well as farmers get sh140 million per year from sales. The KVDA projects will not stop," said Mr Kiptanui.

KVDA board member Aden Omar said that the Authority has the most successful schemes in Weiwei in West Pokot County, Napuu irrigation scheme in Turkana County and several others in Elgeyo Marakwet tackling food insecurity and minimising conflicts along the borders in the region.

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