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Agony for Meru farmers as water pans turn into death traps

Friday September 20 2019

Kangaita village

An incomplete water pan on Kirimi Karegwa’s farm in Kangaita village, Meru County. PHOTO | GITONGA MARETE | NATION MEDIA GROUP  

GITONGA MARETE
By GITONGA MARETE
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Multi-million water reservoirs dug by the government, to boost agriculture and food security for families in Meru County, have become death traps.

A year ago, hundreds of residents in Meru got an enticing offer from Agriculture and Irrigation ministry: water pans would be dug in their farms, to help them practice irrigation farming.

With the project costing over Sh100,000 each, it was out of reach for most small-scale farmers and they did not think twice about the offer. But while the more than 400 pans were a blessing to most farmers, they have turned out to be a curse to others.

WHITE ELEPHANT PROJECTS

In Buuri, where a number of farmers reluctantly signed up for the projects after being convinced they would be supplied with liners, they wish they had declined the offer.

With a liner costing up to Sh100,000, most farmers have not fitted the pans with them. The pans that were supposed to liberate them from poverty have turned into death traps and source of agony and heartache, two seasons later.

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“The pan now occupies more than half an acre of my three-acre farm and for a year the section of the farm has been idle. I used to plant peas there and earned over Sh20,000 each season but that income is no more,” said Triza Mukiri, a resident of Kiirua.

“We have been left with gaping holes on our farms which are a danger to our children and domestic animals. This is not fair because we had not planned for them, the reason we have not been able to raise the money for the liners,” added Lucy Kaguri, another resident.

DEATH TRAPS

At Kangaita, near Nanyuki some 40 kilometres from Kiirua, the story is even worse. Kirimi Karegwa lost his 13-year-old daughter when she fell into the water pan that is now filled with water, and drowned.

“We heard screams coming from this direction and rushed to see what was happening. By the time we sought ways of diving into the 12-foot deep pool she had already gulped too much water. It is painful losing a child in this manner and I wish I had listened to my neighbours who refused to sign up for the project. They should come and cover the holes since I don’t think they will ever be of benefit to us,” Mr Karegwa said.

Speaking to Nation in a telephone interview, National Irrigation Board (NIB) general manager Gitonga Mugambi said the pans were done in several counties across the country to help farmers transit from rain-fed agriculture to irrigation, which would improve their earnings.

BIGGER PICTURE

“It is unfortunate that misfortunes have befallen some people but the project was conceived with the aim of alleviating suffering among farmers in arid and semi-arid areas where we targeted that each farmer should store water to irrigate at least one acre of land,” Mr Mugambi said.

“So far, at least 12,000 water pans have been dug across the country at an average cost of Sh120,000 each, with success stories being reported in most areas including Nyeri, Makueni, and Kitui counties,” he added.

The NIB boss said farmers signed contracts with the government before they allowed bulldozers to access their farms and dig the pans, adding that liners were not included in the project. He said it was made clear they were supposed to look for money and fix the liners and fence the pans for security purposes.

Meru county executive in charge of Agriculture Dr Eunice Kobia said their contribution to the project was “technical”, adding that they did not have money to buy the linings for the farmers.

“As for now, we have to be open with the farmers. Finances for the project have not been factored in the budget and we don’t want to promise what can’t. They should look for funds and finish up the projects because after all the bigger part of the job was done and the pans will greatly benefit them,” she said in an interview.

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