After many years of dependency on livestock as their economic mainstay, Samburu residents have now turned to crop farming, a move that has now prompted the county government to allocate more funds towards revamping the sector.
Samburus were for decades known for their nomadic lifestyle, mainly rearing livestock.
But after losing most of their animals to drought, it has dawned on them that something needs to be done if they have to sustain their livelihoods.
With that realisation, the locals are quickly turning to crop farming.
The county government has now allocated more than Sh30 million for irrigation schemes in different parts of Samburu.
Speaking in an interview, Samburu Director of Agriculture Tyson Lemako said apart from opening up the irrigation schemes, the county has also been offering subsidy programmes including the distribution of seeds and purchase of tractors that have been distributed to several farmers’ groups in the county.
“We have two irrigation schemes that are being constructed at a total cost of Sh17 million. We have allocated a total of Sh15 million towards the certified seeds subsidy where we issue maize, beans, cowpeas and green grams seeds,” Mr Lemako said.
He added that the county has allocated Sh8 million for a feasibility study for another irrigation scheme aimed at helping more farmers who are eager to engage in farming.
“The two ongoing irrigation projects are the Arsim irrigation project which is 90 percent complete and the Lulu irrigation project which is 75 percent complete. All these projects are in Samburu North,” said Mr Lemako.
He said that once they are completed, each will serve about 132 farmers in every block.
“Each of the two irrigation projects is being implemented under the 100 acres of land, but in the first phase, we utilised 33 acres of land for each scheme. Now the farmers will farm in blocs with an acre holding four farmers. That means we will have 132 farmers in every scheme per season and for both schemes, we will have about 264 farmers,” he added.
The two irrigation projects, he said, will have the capacity to produce almost 1,000 bags of maize, translating to about 15 bags of maize per acre.
“Before the onset of devolution, we only had about three tractors for farmers. But since then, we have purchased 29 tractors which have been sent to the 29 agricultural farmers’ associations (AFAs),” he said.
The AFAs were allowed to manage the tractors through an MoU with the county government based on a legislation that was passed by the county assembly.
“Initially we had a big shortage of agricultural extension officers to enhance the uptake of farming activities by the farmers. But at the moment, we have employed ward agricultural extension officers who go to the villages and assist farmers in their day to day farming activities,” said Mr Lemako.
Several farmers have taken up this initiative and are now turning into maize farming.
In Lepartuk Lgoos village, about 20 kilometres from Maralal town, we met a couple, Shekuti Lekidil, 30, and his wife, Lekidil Naseku, 29.
They five children and for the last five years they have been cultivating and getting good harvests to sustain their family.
“In this farm, we grow maize and beans. We decided to grow maize because our animals used to die during drought. When the livestock we depended on was wiped out by the drought, we suffered a lot and that is the reason we decided to venture into farming,” said Ms Lekidil.
The couple owns two acres of land next to the road and last year they harvested 50 bags of maize and ten bags of beans.
“We discovered that sometimes, it would rain to an extent of flooding and our animals would then be washed away. Still, we depended on the animals. But then we sat down and decided that we must change,” said Mr Lekidil.
MAIZE FOR FOOD
He said that although they still keep livestock, they now dedicate most of their time to farming, at least for now.
“After getting a good harvest last year, I sold some of the maize and purchased three cows. For now, I get milk but also have maize for food. The rains are still coming and we are hoping for a good harvest by December,” he said.
A kilometre away, we met Mzee Jonathan Lemisiro, also a farmer.
Inside his three-acre land is lush green maize.
He told us why he also opted for farming instead of rearing livestock.
TIME TO CHANGE
“We have decided to change. During drought, these animals die and that gives us a lot of problems. That is why we decided that change is a must,” he said.
About a kilometre away, we met George Losirikat and his family tilling a farm near a stream along the Kisima-Maralal road.
On his two-acre farm, Mr Losirikat grows maize, beans and sukumawiki (kales).
“I still rear goats and sheep but I decided to put more effort in farming. This is the only way to ensure that I get food to sustain my family. If I get good harvests; I can stay for even a year without buying food. Even if drought comes to wipe my animals, I will have food stored for my family,” he said.
For most of the year, Samburu is normally dry with little rainfall.
This had led many people in the county to depend on livestock for a living.
In its 2018-2022 integrated development plan, the county government has identified areas suitable for irrigation.
Some of the areas with adequate water for irrigation include Kurungu, South Horr, Arsim, Tuum, Anderi, Waso Rongai and Lulu in Samburu North.
Others are Amaya and Seiya in Samburu Central, Kibartare, Ngilai, Lkerei, Westgate, Gogoltim, Loijuk, Nkutuk e Ngiron and Sasaab in Samburu East.