It is the dream of every farmer in Ukambani to own or lease land near River Athi, which flows through the region, as this enables one to grow crops even during the dry seasons.
But farming along the river is turning out to be a nightmare for hundreds of farmers who for years have used the water for irrigation.
The river has been badly contaminated with industrial and human effluence, making farming a risky affair.
Obed Mbithi, a French beans farmer at Kabaa in Yatta Constituency, knows this too well. The farmer is now in dilemma after his produce was rejected by an exporter due to ‘high levels of iron’. “I started farming along the river in 2006 when I retired from the police force. I grow various crops including French beans, chilli pepper, cabbages and tomatoes.”
His French beans normally occupy two acres at Kabaa and he waters the crops using a simple pump that draws the water from the river.
“I have been selling the produce to agents who export it to Holland, the US and Dubai. But my last harvest was rejected in September due to high levels of iron,” says Mbithi, noting that during the dry seasons, especially in August, the water turns green indicating high level of contamination.
The two acres offer him eight tonnes, which earn him a profit of at least Sh160,000. For now, Mbithi has suspended farming the crop.
At Miondoni in Mwala Constituency, Johnson Muinde has planted 552 cabbages in a greenhouse where he uses the water from River Athi to irrigate his farm.
He also grows tomatoes and sells his produce in local markets in Katangi and Kyua towns.
FACTORY WASTE DISCHARGED INTO THE RIVER
His produce, as that of many farmers who grow crops along the banks of the river that stretches from Athi plains to Thika to the Indian Ocean, finds its way to Nairobi and other towns posing huge risks to consumers because chemical residues for food sold in local markets is not monitored.
Parliament’s Committee on Environment and Natural Resources has put the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) on the spot for failing in its duty to safeguard the river from pollution.
The committee visited Yatta and Mwala constituencies to assess the extent of the pollution following complaints from residents.
Nema has, however, defended itself and blamed politicians, especially MCAs from Nairobi County, for protecting illegal settlers who had encroached the river basin.
Nema Deputy Director Robert Orina, speaking recently at Kabaa and Miondoni in Yatta Constituency, said politicians posed a challenge to the authority as they often incite illegal dwellers polluting rivers.
He further noted industries and sewer pipes leakages were other causes of pollution, adding that the authority was working to prevent the pollution.
The committee said it will summon relevant government agencies, including Nema and Water Resource Management Agency before presenting their report for debate in Parliament. February next year.
Environmental scientist Jeremiah Simba said heavy metals from factories are discharged directly into the river.
Therefore, when the water is used for irrigation, plants absorb the metals as nutrients later causing adverse health problems to human beings that include cancer. He noted that raw sewage from Kitengela and Mlolongo towns find its way into the river.