As we drive along the dusty road to Lokori in Turkana County, we meet several herders with hundreds of cattle slogging in the dry land in search of pasture.
Looking at the hundreds of cows and goats, one feels envious of the few crop farmers in the area as they seem to have abundant cattle manure at their disposal.
But that is far from the truth as Seeds of Gold found out from a group of 20 women who are growing horticultural crops on four acres under irrigation. Their farm is divided into 20 equal portions where each woman is planting different vegetables, maize, beans and fruits.
“We get water from a nearby seasonal river, which we pump using a generator into two big concrete tanks for storage,” says Priscilla Nakoll, the chairperson of the Lokori farming group.
How Pastoralism leads scarcity of manure
The women have solved the water problem, which should be their biggest in the arid area.
However, their toughest challenge is getting fertiliser, both organic and inorganic.
Well, one may wonder why getting organic fertiliser is a challenge yet the community keeps thousands of cattle.
“We keep many animals, but the pastoralism life has made it difficult for us to get manure. Since the herders keep on moving from one place to another, it means if you are to get cattle manure, you have to follow them, which makes the whole exercise difficult,” says Nakoll.
Nakoll notes the group members are forced to walk long distances following cattle just to collect manure for their farm.
“Sometimes we do not succeed, but we don’t give up.”
Having found it difficult to get the cattle manure, the women had turned to buying inorganic fertiliser that include DAP from Lodwar, several kilometres away.
“It was easier for us to go to Lodwar and get inorganic fertiliser than follow the herders. But we now have to stop using the inorganic fertiliser because of the nature of our soil, which is sandy,” says Nakoll.
What soils in arid areas need
Prof Mary Abukutsa of the Department of Horticulture, Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture Technology, says soils in arid areas need good management to improve their conditions and build fertility.“Sandy soils generally have low organic matter and nutrient content, poor water retention capacity, low soil fertility, poor soil structure, high permeability and are highly sensitivity to compaction with many adverse consequences,” she notes.
To improve the soil structure, water rotation and fertility, she advises the use of organic manure like that from cattle.A combination of organic and inorganic fertilisers too can help save the situation, according to the expert.
She discourages farmers farming in sandy soils against using inorganic fertiliser for long, noting that “exclusive long-term use of inorganic fertilisers destroys the soil structure.”
The women started the farming group in 2013, with the help of the AIC Lokori Church Health Centre, as part of fighting malnutrition amongst children, pregnant and lactating mothers.World Vision then constructed for them the water tanks and bought them a generator and farm tools in a project that cost Sh250,000.
Despite the challenges, the Lokori village farm is full of lush green crops in an area where crop farming is non-existent.
From their farming produce, each women is able to make between Sh500 to Sh800 a day after selling their produce at Lokichar market, translating to between Sh15,000 to Sh24,000 a month.
“Crop farming is good, as our husbands take care of the animals, we grow crops and supplement their income,” says Nakoll, who lives in an iron-roofed house as many other members of her group, thanks to farming.