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Pastoralists in West Pokot reap big from seed maize farming

Perkerra

Maize seed production at the Perkerra Irrigation Scheme in Baringo. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Summary

  • West Pokot, one of Kenya’s drought-prone counties is undergoing tremendous transformation into a highly productive area as hundreds of herdsmen embrace crop production.
  • Pushed by the effects of climate change, pastoralists are dropping age-old traditions that mainly value their animals as a source of food and wealth and going into crop farming through irrigation schemes along Kerio Valley.

West Pokot, one of Kenya’s drought-prone counties is undergoing tremendous transformation into a highly productive area as hundreds of herdsmen embrace crop production.

Pushed by the effects of climate change, pastoralists are dropping age-old traditions that mainly value their animals as a source of food and wealth and going into crop farming through irrigation schemes along Kerio Valley.

Among the projects behind the shift from pastoralism to agribusiness investment is Wei Wei Irrigation Scheme. Hundreds of farmers looking to realise high yields and incomes, pulled together to form the Wei Wei Farmers Association in 1988.

The project irrigates 225 hectares of land, allowing the more than 600 pastoralist families to invest in subsistence and cash crop farming.

To increase crop productivity and access the market for the produce at competitive rates, the farmers have partnered with various seed merchants.

wei wei

Workers at Sigor Wei wei Irrigation Scheme in West Pokot during shelling of seed maize on August 4, 2021. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Among key seed manufacturing firms, the association has partnered with include Kenya Seed Company and Western Seed.

Kenya Seed Company contracted the farmers to plant seed maize, which it buys at the attractive price of Sh100 per kilo.

To ease the cost of production, Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA), partnered with the association to construct a shelling plant. Before they had to transport their produce to Kenya Seed Company’s plant in Kitale, Trans Nzoia County, eating into their earnings.

“Farmers can now enjoy economics of scale since they no longer have to transport the crop to Kitale for shelling. The new plant enables them to dry, shell, and weigh the crop with the guaranteed market at attractive prices,” said Mr David Chepkisha, the association’s vice-chairman.

Mr Chepkisha said members earned over Sh42 million from last season’s harvest from about 700 acres of land under seed maize crop.

“We project to earn between Sh70-80 million this season as members embrace modern crop production technology to realise better yield,” said Mr Chepkisha.

maize

A seed maize crop at Sigor Wei wei Irrigation Scheme in West Pokot County on August 4, 2021. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

The KVDA Regional Manager in charge of Turkwel region (West Pokot County) Patrick Turanyira said the Wei Wei Scheme has the potential to produce 1,200-2,000 tonnes per cropping season, generating between Sh100 million to Sh120 million annually.

Besides contract maize see farming, the farmers also cultivate sorghum, fruits, and vegetables, diversifying their income sources.

Among the high-value crops grown at the scheme are watermelon, onions, and kales.

“Diversification to agribusiness has empowered our members to earn more revenue which enables them to educate their children and improve their general socio-economic welfare,” noted Mr Chepkisha.

He disclosed that more than 100,000 farmers in West Pokot and Turkana counties have invested in crop production techniques under furrow and drip irrigation following the return of relative peace in a region that had witnessed protracted cattle rustling and banditry.

“Cattle raids will soon be a thing of the past as more pastoralists diversify to irrigated agriculture. It is our wish that similar programmes are initiated in neighboring Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties,” said Mr Chepkisha.

Wei Wei Farmers Association secretary David Lotudo urged the government to accelerate the implementation of the next phase of the irrigation project to enable more pastoralists to benefit.

He increased demand for agricultural land, sky-rocketing cost of farm inputs, and damage of pipes as some of the challenges facing farmers at the scheme.

“Although soil in most parts of West Pokot County is highly fertile, dependence on the rain-fed farming system has precluded agriculture as an alternative food source,” said Mr Lotudo adding that recurrent droughts have demonstrated that nomadic pastoralism is no longer sustainable.

“When Wei Wei Scheme was started more than 20 years, most people in this area did not grow or eat vegetables,” said Mr Lotudo. But the community is today supportive of the project.

“The villagers now appreciate the nutritional value and economic potential of farming,” explained Mr Lotudo.

And the growing uptake of crop farming has created employment opportunities too.

Mr Turanyira said that KVDA spends approximately Sh3 million as labour costs which offer residents job opportunities.

He, however, said lack of trained agricultural field officers, scarcity of farm machinery, and damaged pipes are among challenges facing the farmers.

“The irrigation infrastructure –sprinklers are aged and worn-out and require modernisation,” said Mr Turanyira.

The KVDA spent about Sh300,000 last season to repair water intake damaged by floods and replace some of the worn-out water pipes.

“Farmers are to be trained on modern farming techniques and carry out soil analysis to determine the type of fertiliser to apply to their crops,” disclosed Mr Turanyira.

The KVDA Managing Director Sammy Naporos said they require over Sh300 million to repair three major irrigation schemes in West Pokot county- Weiwei, ESP Tukou Sangat and Marich Pass damaged by the recent floods.

“Wei wei irrigation scheme which is one of the main irrigation schemes with 1,000 hectares of land under the big four agenda on food production helps residents of West Pokot, East Pokot, Baringo and Turkana but has been damaged by the floods,” Mr Naporos said.

He said the floods destroyed water fallows in the Sh1.2 billion Wei Wei irrigation scheme which is expected to boost food production and reduce overreliance on relief food in the arid region.

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