How farming is cultivating peace in volatile Kerio Valley


Samuel Kipkeu from Tot, Elgeyo-Marakwet County harvests a ripe mango at his farm on January 10, 2020. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Kerio Valley region has been known for many years as banditry and cattle raids hotspot. These attacks have been the bane of socio-economic development in the semi-arid area, as they have led to loss of lives and property.

The region, which has been branded Kosovo of Kenya due to the never-ending attacks, is however experiencing economic transformation due to the prevailing peace after bandits behind the insecurity were subdued in joint security operations.

The resumption of peace has opened a window for many reformed warriors and victims of the incessant attacks to invest in meaningful income generating activities to better their lives.

Among the groups are Kabetwa and Kabarsumba self-help initiatives in Tot, Marakwet East sub-county. These groups are reaping big after investing in horticulture and micro-finance businesses as alternative source of income to pastoralism.

“After I lost 50 goats and five cows in 2016 through cattle rustling, I decided to join farming of sorghum and watermelon because they cannot take what I have in the farm,” Daniel Suter, a 33-year-old farmer of Kabetwa told Enterprise.

“Watermelon takes only three months and I get around 2,000 pieces out of my one and a half acres. I sell a piece at Sh150, translating to Sh300,000 in total a season, much better than gambling with cattle which can be taken anytime.”

They consider the investment to be less risky compared to pastoralism that exposed them to recurrent bandit attacks in the infamous “valley of death”.

“Most of the people here are now very serious in farming and that is why you see we have mangoes, sorghum, and watermelon and green grams because we are tired of banditry every now and then,” he notes.

“Our initiative to focus on farming is currently bearing fruits because rampant raid has reduced significantly though we still have few cases.”

The farmers grow six different varieties of mangoes, targeting different markets depending on demand from his seasoned clients.

Apple, Porible, Ngowe and Tommy Harkins varieties, all provided by Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA), are popular in the vast Kerio region and has high demand among customers.

In the entire region of Tot, every homestead now has mango trees. Schools too generate income from the fruit.

Johnston Kitum is among farmers who have been investing in mango since 1995. He is currently benefitting from Kerio Valley Development Authority’s (KVDA) guidance to invest in fast maturing, disease-resistant and high yielding mangoes thus earning better returns.

“I started with 20 trees of traditional mango tree in 1995 but currently I have 40 trees after our partnership with the KVDA which has empowered us on modern production in terms of provision of quality seedlings, how to manage diseases and obain market information,” explains Mr Kiptum, a farmer at Kabarsumba village.

Residents say they are happy that they are not only getting better returns, they are also enjoying relative peace.

“We actively engage in farming so that issues of cattle rustling can be a thing of the past. I have been doing this since 2006 and as years goes by, we have seen insecurity incidents reducing,” says Rael Kirotich.

During the peak period which is between January and April, as well as July and November the farmer harvests daily and sell them in Iten, Eldoret, Kitale, Nakuru and Kisumu.

Members of the group have developed a unique system of furrows on the steep escarpments to provide water for irrigation, human and animal consumption.

The furrows are trough-shaped made from stones and timbers and are managed by the various clans who own and depend on it.

The young investors are set to benefit from the construction of mango processing factory at Tot, Elgeyo Marakwet County to cushion farmers from exploitation by middlemen. The agency’s acting chief executive officer Sammy Naporos says the Sh45 million mango factory has started operating officially, noting that it will end the excessive loss of mangoes in the region due to rotting brought about by lack of market.

“The factory is a reprieve to farmers who have for long suffered exploitation by middlemen since it will ensure value addition for them,” says Mr Naporos.

The factory is expected to save farmers ­­— who used to transport mangoes, oranges, paw paws, water melons and passion fruit to far markets — between Sh8 million and 10 million yearly. Also lack of cold room storage and market forced many farmers to sell their produce at throwaway prices while some of the produce rots in the farms.

“Organic juice will be extracted from the fruit pulp which can be used as a flavour for ice cream or even yoghurt,” says Mr Naporos, adding that it will target markets in Netherlands and Europe.

The region produces an average of 25,000 tonnes of mangoes annually but KVDA is looking to encourage farmers to increase production 10 times to 250,000 tonnes in the next one year.

The project, according to Mr Naporos, is expected to create more than 500 jobs and improve economic development of the region.

According to the Horticultural Crops Development Authority (HCDA), the North Rift region produces some of the juiciest mangoes and has the potential to produce more than 1000 metric tonnes per year.

Despite making remarkable progress, farmers contend with various hurdles. Water shortages especially during the dry spell and disease outbreaks including fruit flies and mango seed weevils are some of the challenges they face.