As the war on illicit liquor intensifies, one village in West Pokot County is concerned about the high levels of alcoholism elsewhere in the country.
For several years now, Kaptabuk Village in Lelan Division of West Pokot County has not seen anyone either punch-drunk or visibly inebriated along its well-murrammed streets.
Kaptabuk is a unique, alcohol-free village. Not a single bar operates in the area.
This follows a “referendum” held by village elders in 1978 that outlawed the brewing or selling of alcohol.
“In 1978, our chief John Barmao summoned the then Pokot District Commissioner Francis Cherogony for a public baraza at Kabichbich to which he had summoned all elders of Lelan,” recalls Francis Longorok, 66, who lives in Kaptabuk.
“The DC told the people who supported the brewing and selling of alcohol to stand on his right and those against it on his left. Those against were the majority — 200 against 30,” he said.
From then, alcohol was outlawed in the village until 2013, when some enterprising youths opened a bar that was, however, swiftly shut down by angry villagers.
POLICY BY CHIEF
“It was then that the chief, Mr Geoffrey Merimuk, crafted a village policy outlawing alcohol, which he circulated and every villager signed in acceptance,” Mr Longorok added, surrounded by a dozen, healthy, playful children.
As the Nation toured the village, we spotted youths busy tilling land and planting grass for their dairy cows as middle-aged men gathered at local kiosks for a cup of tea and mandazi.
This is the way of life in the village that lies 2,950 metres above sea level, providing ideal conditions for sheep and dairy farming. “In Kaptabuk, we drink tea, soda or milk.
There is no alcohol. The whole of Kenya should live like us,” said a resident, Richard Togole, as he tackled a huge Sh10 mandazi, washing it down with steaming chai from a yellow metallic mug.
“We only see people drunk and staggering on television. Our children have never seen a drunkard,” he said.
Across the street, Mr Reuben Lopetangor, chairman of the Kaptabuk Farmers’ Co-operative Society, gleefully looks on as farmers deliver milk at the cooling plant on donkeys and motorbikes.
The Sh2.1 million, 5,000-litre capacity plant, which became fully operational in January, collects between 2,700 and 2,800 litres of milk daily, with volumes expected to increase since the dry spell is over.
It was constructed through a Sh350,000 grant from the West Pokot County government. Villagers held a fundraiser in which Sh600,000 was collected. They also contributed the rest of the money.
“Previously, farmers would sell their milk to middlemen and spend their earnings on alcohol, but since the signing of the village anti-alcohol policy, they bring their milk here and production has increased.
“This chilling plant coupled with the alcohol policy have improved the economic standards of the people. Our monthly payout is about Sh2 million,” said Mr Lopentangor.
Farmers sell their milk to the society at Sh34 per litre when production is low and Sh36 during peak period. Brookside Dairies purchases the milk at up to Sh38 per litre.
The villagers now want the government to construct more roads and connect electricity in the area. They also want artificial insemination services to be introduced to help improve their dairy-cow breeds.
“Since the villagers signed the anti-alcohol policy, the youths now have flourishing farms and healthy cattle. The people who must really take alcohol have to walk or travel about 40 kilometres to Makutano,” he said.
The sobering experience has seen many farmers plough their earnings from dairy business into the milk plant, which is now seeking a licence to operate as a fully fledged co-operative society with banking services.