In 2009, at the height of bandit attacks in Samburu, West Pokot and Turkana counties, Mathew Lesiyampe lost his livelihood. One night, his home in Lolkunono village, Samburu, was attacked. The herder survived the mayhem but lost 40 animals.
Several people were killed in a neighbouring village.
“My cows valued at more than Sh1 million were stolen in one fell swoop. By the time the raid ended, some 68 people had died. We lost about 3,000 animals,” he said in Maralal.
“That brought a new reality to herders. A few of us realised pastoralism was not viable.”
After much thought, Lesiyampe decided to try his hand in crop farming, a task that was almost unheard of in dry Maralal.
I shifted from Loosuk to Maralal. I had already decided what to do and was prepared for the challenges ahead,” he said.
“I was also determined not to go back to pastoralism.”
In 2010, he took a Sh3 million bank loan and went to his new home to start growing vegetables. Lesiyambe was so focused on irrigation that he did not look back.
“With the money, I bought a three-acre piece, drilled a borehole and got solar-powered pumps. I then contacted an irrigation expert in Nairobi, who came to my farm, helped me draft a plan and divided the land into three sections. He then told me what to do,” Lesiyampe said.
He began by planting 9,000 cabbage seedlings, his target being Maralal locals.
In three months, Lesiyampe had harvested the vegetables. He sold a head at Sh100, making around Sh900,000.
“Following the good results, I increased the acreage and planted 20,000 cabbages. I harvested them three months later and made a tidy sum,” he said.
Lesiyampe, now among the biggest suppliers of vegetables to schools, colleges and other institutions in and around Maralal, says making such an amount in a short time was different from herding cattle.
“I would sell a cow for Sh40,000 after five or more years,” he said.
He hired a farm manager when the vegetable venture grew bigger.
Cost of running the farm
“We divided the farm and planted tomatoes, onions and other crops. Because Samburu is dry, vegetables always have a ready market,” he said.
As a result of that, Lesiyampe bought more land. He has now hired 10 women as casuals, paying each Sh500 daily.
“The monthly labour cost is Sh50,000,” he said.
The cost of running the farm every month is Sh200,000 to Sh250,000. During harvest, he hires five lorries at a total cost of Sh50,000.
He gave part of his farm to a women’s group that also grows vegetables.
“I repaid the loan the very year the business began. The women’s group is doing well. I keep encouraging them to expand their venture,” he said.
Lesiyampe also sells his vegetables to customers in Nyahururu, Rumuruti and Nakuru.
“My firstborn daughter has completed her master’s degree while the second born is an undergraduate. I educated all my children from the proceeds of this farm,” he said.
Samburu County Agriculture director Tyson Lemako says crop production can transform the region into a bread basket.
Mr Lemako says the county government is promoting irrigation and subsidising the cost of seeds and hiring tractors. Several farmers’ groups have received tractors so far.
“The total cost of our irrigation projects is Sh17 million. We have set aside Sh15 million for subsidised maize, beans, cowpeas, green grams and other seeds,” Lemako said.
He adds that the county government has set aside Sh8 million for another irrigation scheme.
“The Arsim irrigation project is 90 per cent complete while Lulu is 75 per cent. These projects are in Samburu North sub-county,” he said.
Once completed, each would serve about 132 farmers in every block.
The two projects will produce almost 1,000 bags of maize, translating to 15 bags an acre.
“Before devolution, the region only had three tractors for farmers. We have bought 29 tractors for a similar number of farmers’ associations,” Lemoko said.
The associations were allowed to manage the tractors under an agreement with the devolved government.