After losing nearly all his livestock to perennial drought and bandits, John Nang’iro Ekalale from Kaptir ward in Turkana county switched to horticulture in 2016.
Ekalale teamed up with 15 young pastoralists from Lodot village, who had also lost their livestock, to try their hands on irrigated horticulture farming.
“We didn’t know what we wanted to grow by then, and even today, it is still trial and error,” says Ekalale, noting they are mainly farming tomatoes, scallions, spinach, sukuma wiki (collard greens) and indigenous vegetables.
Other crops growing well in the area include eggplant and capsicum. However, while the harvest has been good, the farmers face a bigger challenge of market.
“Horticultural crops are doing well here but the challenge is many residents don’t include them in their diets. Many times we are forced to teach them how to cook some of these food before persuading them to buy,” says Ekalale, who now grows capsicum.
Before they started farming, the 15 young men manually sunk a shallow well, which luckily yielded fresh water. “We started by doing manual irrigation, where we used buckets to fetch water and sprinkle it on the crops,” says Paul Samal.
Their work caught the eye of the county government in 2017 and German organisation GIZ, which sunk for them two boreholes.
“We now use a solar system which helps us easily pump water from the source to the farm,” says Samal, adding the group that farms on 51 acres has grown from 15 to 232 members under the name Lodot Green Growers.
RESILIENT TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Patrick Munyula, an agricultural officer from Katilu ward, Turkana South, says the county government is already mapping out boreholes with the aim of expanding irrigation.
Water has been a hindrance to agricultural prosperity in most arid and semi-arid areas. However, the good news is that the latest hydrogeological research findings have revealed that groundwater in Africa is resilient to climate change.
Turkana is one of the counties with myriad seasonal rivers, and it experiences extreme floods during decadal heavy rainfall seasons.
Prof Dan Olago, a senior lecturer at the department of geology, University of Nairobi, says groundwater in Kenya, and on the entire African continent, remains a hidden resource that has not been studied exhaustively.
“When people want to access groundwater, they ask experts to go out there and do a hydro-geophysical survey basically to site a borehole without necessarily understanding the characteristics of that particular aquifer,” he said.
According to Munyula, looking at the yields from the plots that have already been established by local farmers, there is high optimism that the region would soon be a breadbasket.
According to the residents, the biggest hurdle right now is how to access external markets for the high-value horticultural produce, given the poor infrastructure and the distance from target markets.
But since the yields are good and they can fetch some little money locally, Ekalale says he will continue growing them and even increase the varieties as residents slowly learn their nutritional significance.
Alphus Lusweti, the county agricultural officer in Loima, says they are currently sensitising farmers on the available markets for their products.
“Beyond awareness, we are also involved in market linkages. For instance, we are linking farmers to markets such as the Refugee camp in Kakuma and government institutions; mainly schools, prisons and colleges,” he says.