Kenya: Dashed Hopes for Starving Kenyans as Ambitious Irrigation Projects Stall

When the government launched numerous irrigation schemes in semi-arid counties in the North Rift region, pastoral communities hoped the projects would enhance food security, but several years later they have either failed to kick off or stalled.

The delays have dashed the hopes of residents of West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu and Elgeyo Marakwet counties who hoped to benefit economically and socially and improve their livelihoods.

The government had allocated additional funds to support agri-pastoralism among more than 4,500 families who depended on the schemes for food security.

Some Sh1.5 billion was set aside this financial year for small-scale irrigation and value addition projects, up from Sh1.3 billion.

Another Sh620 million was earmarked for the food security and crop diversification project.

The National Irrigation Authority (NIA) says the country’s irrigation potential is estimated at 1.3 million hectares, but only 162,000 hectares (12 percent) has been developed to help boost food security.

In West-Pokot, the government in collaboration with an Italian firm launched Phase III of the Sigor Wei Wei Integrated Development Project to motivate more pastoralists to invest in irrigated agriculture and reduce over-reliance on relief food in the arid region.

But the Sh1.2 billion irrigation scheme, which was commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2016, is still in its initial stages.

The project was to be undertaken by the Italian Development Cooperation and the Kenyan government through the Kerio Development Authority (KVDA) and would have seen more than 325 acres put under irrigation.

Apart from fencing off the area and supplying piped water, no other activity is taking place at the scheme.

“On completion, the project will not only boost food security in Pokot but will also benefit other parts of Kenya. This region should not always be associated with relief food,” Mr Kenyatta said when the project was launched.

He said that the Jubilee administration had put 600,000 acres under irrigation and that figure was to hit over one million acres by the end of 2016.

But six years later, the implementation of the Sigor Wei Wei Phase III project is yet to kick off, shattering the hopes of residents who were to benefit from the scheme by becoming food-secure.

“The contractor left after fencing and levelling it before laying underground piped water,” said Margaret Cherop Lokari, one of the residents who expected to benefit from the project.

Fruits and vegetables

Residents said that despite the heavy investments by the government and development partners, the returns from the schemes are yet to be felt as they continue to experience recurrent food shortages.

“The government needs to hasten the process of implementing this project to enable us to benefit in terms of food security and sustainable income generation to improve our livelihoods,” said Elkana Kiptum.

Most farmers, as in the neighbouring Wei Wei phases I and II, cultivate such crops as maize, sorghum, bananas, fruits and vegetables on the 225 acres.

The farmers source their farm inputs from Kenya Seed Company on loans, which are repaid after the produce is harvested and sold.

More than 600 pastoralist families invest in subsistence and cash crop farming, earning more than Sh42 million from last season’s harvest. They expect the project to bring in over Sh70 million this season.

“Although the soil in most parts of West Pokot County is highly fertile, dependence on rain-feed farming has precluded agriculture as an alternative food source,” said David Chepkisha, vice-chairman of the Wei Wei Farmers Association.

The government three years ago allocated more than Sh60 million for irrigation projects in Turkana County.

Among the projects that benefited from the funds is the Katilu irrigation scheme, which was allocated Sh45 million and where 650 hectares would be placed under agricultural production to boost food security among locals.

The project was started in 1963 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) but stalled due to alleged mismanagement and recurrent cattle-rusting raids involving two communities.

Another Sh20 million was allocated to establish the Lotubae irrigation scheme in Turkana East, a project that serves residents of East Baringo sub-county.

An additional Sh38 million was allocated to the Nakwomoru irrigation scheme, downstream of the Turkwel gorge.

The irrigation scheme acts as a buffer zone between the Pokot and Turkana communities but stalled due to recurrent cattle rustling and banditry.

KVDA is implementing multimillion-shilling irrigation schemes in Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo-Marakwet and Baringo counties to promote irrigated agriculture so residents can improve crop production and attain food security.

KVDA Managing Director Sammy Naporos said Sh59 million will be pumped into the Lomut irrigation project in West Pokot to place 800 acres under irrigated agriculture to boost food production and reduce over-reliance on relief food in the arid region.

“More than 1,200 families will benefit from the project by providing food security and sustainable income generation to communities that have experienced recurrent food shortages,” Mr Naporos said.

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