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How a Turkana village has stayed unscathed despite biting drought

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Mr Ewas Ng’imojong’, one of the 42 beneficiaries of the 10-acre irrigation scheme, at his farm on September 21, 2021. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Summary

  • Not only are these foods a source of their nourishment, but also income through the sale of surplus produce.
  • According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) Turkana County Coordinator Abdikadir Jilo, pastoral livelihood zones have gone into alarm drought status.
  • In the past, most residents relied on government food rations that were hard to come by, and when they did, did not last long enough to feed hungry families.

As drought continues to ravage the semi-arid Turkana county, John Lolelea from Kang’eregai village has had a constant supply of food.

“I embraced crop farming as a source of livelihood to beat hunger. My family in the past were [regularly] on the brink of death because of starvation until I turned to crop farming and reduced the number of animals,” he recalled.

He said a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) as part of perennial drought mitigation drilled a borehole, ensuring constant water supply, and inducted residents to crop farming. He has never looked back since embracing crop farming on the 10 acre-Kang’eregai irrigation scheme.

Forty families now directly benefit from the scheme, growing several crops including green grams, sorghum, cowpeas, maize, watermelons, tomatoes, and kales. Not only are these foods a source of their nourishment, but also income through the sale of surplus produce.

“For ages, as pastoralists, we faced waves of devastating hunger caused by failed rains but for us, the irrigation scheme has been a big relief,” Mr Lolelea told the Business Daily when we found him watering his tomato field.

According to the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) Turkana County Coordinator Abdikadir Jilo, pastoral livelihood zones have gone into alarm drought status. He singled out Lakezone, Kaeris, Kaaleng/Kaikor and Lapur Wards in Turkana North sub-county as well as Kerio, Kalokol and Kangathota in Turkana Central as the high-risk areas.

Others include Kalapata and Lokichar wards in Turkana South, Katilia and Kochodin in Turkana East as well as border villages in Loima and Turkana West.

“More than 600,000 people are in dire need of relief food. Relevant stakeholders in the county are already taking necessary action through immediate response and we have requested for funds to mitigate the drought,” said the coordinator.

Apart from tomatoes, Mr Lolelea also grows maize ensuring food security for his family throughout the year, weather conditions notwithstanding.

Mr Thomas Lowapet, also engages in crop farming.

“After being taught how to handle the tools and clearing the bushes, a tractor was brought to help us till the land. We were issued with seeds and farm implements with an extension officer to offer technical advice because crop farming was alien to us,” he said.

In the past, most residents relied on government food rations that were hard to come by, and when they did, did not last long enough to feed hungry families. Severe droughts that have killed animals in the past also made life difficult for residents.

“Our families never lack food now and our incomes have also become better unlike before when we were used to moving from one place to another,” he said.

Another beneficiary, Ms Amase Ewoi said their overall nutrition had generally improved after embracingcrop farming.

“I have harvested green grams, cowpeas, sorghum and I expect more yields in two months’ time. Our population is not malnourished because of the reliable food supply and also a variety of foodstuffs,” she observed.

Kang’eregai villagers are part of the IMPACT Programme with funding from Bayer Fund that has been strengthening farmers’ resilience in Turkana through several interventions. Key among them is the improvement of farm water systems such as the sinking of boreholes and the construction of irrigation canals.

“As the effects of the prolonged drought in Turkana continue to be felt, rain-fed farms that would usually provide a lifeline to the communities during lean periods have dried up. We are glad that the investments such as drilling of the boreholes have been worthwhile. The farms that benefitted continue being productive as they are under irrigation” said Africare monitoring and evaluation official Henry Muigai.

He noted they intend to modernise farming in the project areas through the installation of drip irrigation system to economise water utilization.

“We are also building resilience among target women groups in Katilu and Turkwel wards. We are currently installing 100 cone gardens in homes to provide daily vegetables. The cone gardens utilise less water and are highly productive and we aim at improving nutrition and food security,” he said.

The programme targets at least 8,000 people who will benefit from direct nutrition support via community health outreach. Over 15,000 children under two years have been screened and treated of various ailments under the project.

Economic mainstay

Turkana, despite occupying 13 percent of Kenya’s landmass, is an arid region with poverty levels at 79.4 percent, according to the Kenya-Economic Report of 2020 by the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) compared to a national average of 31.6 percent.

The report also notes that the county has the highest number of hardcore poor (571,000 individuals) accounting for 15 percent of the total hardcore poor in the country.

In the KIHBS 2015/16 Well Being Report, a household is in hardcore or extreme poverty if their monthly adult equivalent total consumption expenditure per person is less than Sh1,954 in rural and peri-urban areas and less than Sh 2,551 in core-urban areas.

This is now the group feeling the drought heat in Turkana and struggling to find food since the animals which are their economic mainstay are miles away.

At Kalouchelem village the situation is no different as hungry locals appeal for help as a matter of urgency.

Ms Ikalale Ngiminae, just like many other villagers who are going for days without a single meal per day, she the elderly, children, and pregnant mothers were hardest hit by the drought.

“We are suffering and we appeal for urgent relief food to rescue us from dying of hunger. The elderly, children and pregnant mothers are most affected, newborns have no milk to suckle making them stunted and malnourished,” she said.

Turkana Agriculture Executive Philip Aemun said that more than four million goats and sheep across the seven sub counties were at risk of being affected by progressively worsening drought that resulted from delayed March-April-May rains.

"Generally, most traditional and reliable grazing fields are depleted due to overgrazing, threatening pastoralism which is the main source of livelihood for majority of locals," Mr Aemun said.

The county official noted that due to lack of pasture, livestock are currently weak and are fetching little or no income for pastoralists opting to sell now.

"We urgently need concerted efforts from all stakeholders in the livestock sector to rescue our pastoralists by cushioning them with supplementary livestock feeding for the livestock that produces milk," Mr Aemun said.

Turkana has been historically battling drought and famine. Perennially when drought and famine are announced in the country, the county never misses being flagged.

Multiple irrigation projects meant to produce food for the hungry population have since gone under after a few years of yielding enough food to feed the earmarked beneficiaries.

For instance, the once vibrant multimillion-shilling Kiakor drip irrigation scheme which in 2013 provided a glimmer of hope in the fight against hunger now lies in ruins.

The project, an initiative of the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) and the Kenyans for Kenya Steering Committee, was primed as a permanent solution through building community resilience and enhancing food security.

It targeted three villages with a total population of over 15,000 people then producing an array of crops including maize, tomatoes, onions, watermelons and vegetables among others.

Locals’ narrative of hunger ravaging them parallels the nostalgic memories of plenty when the region enjoyed a good harvest.

“The irrigation scheme provided plenty of food and income for three years. But since its collapse, we have reverted to our old life of food dependence. For us to eat we entirely depend on relief food,” he said Nangole Lomuru of Nakinomet village.

He blamed lack of maintenance on the pumps which broke down leading to the drying up of their crops which were under greenhouses.

“Since the scheme collapse life is very challenging since we cannot grow food crops that also served as our source of income through the sale of surplus to various towns including Lodwar and Kakuma as well as across international borders,” he recollects.

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