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Turkwel Dam sparks fish farming in Pokot

tuurkwell

Boats for fishermen parked at Turkwel Dam in West Pokot County on December 15, 2021. PHOTO | JARED NYATAYA | NMG

Summary

  • The region is experiencing economic transformation after bandits behind the insecurity were whipped out in joint security operations.
  • West Pokot and Turkana residents are now embracing fish farming away from their pastoralist way of life.
  • Fish farming has offered residents there the much-needed diversification, especially at a time when prolonged drought has hit livestock farming in the region.

For decades, communities surrounding Turkwel Dam in West Pokot have not known peace due to rampant cattle raids and banditry, which have resulted in the loss of lives and property, impacting negatively to the socio-economic development of the semi-arid area.

But the region is experiencing economic transformation after bandits behind the insecurity were whipped out in joint security operations.

West Pokot and Turkana residents are now embracing fish farming away from their pastoralist way of life.

Fish farming has offered residents there the much-needed diversification, especially at a time when prolonged drought has hit livestock farming in the region.

When the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) introduced fish farming at Turkwel Dam, three years ago, the uptake was slow.

But the climate changes have forced the pastoralists to adopt alternative farming and fish farming.

The residents now say they are profiting from fish farming both economically and socially.

The resumption of peace after governor John Lonyangapuo’s administration introduced fingerlings in the dam has opened a window for many communities from the warring Pokot and Turkana to invest in meaningful income-generating activities and earn a livelihood.

The communities have embraced fishing, which they attribute to the return of peace in the area.

Paulina Joram, a mother of eight and a trader, expresses her excitement on how the fishing on Turkwel Dam is transforming the area as well as reforming the once most wanted cattle rustlers as most of them venture into the economic activity.

She says residents who had been engaging in cattle rustling have reformed.

However, Ms Joram asked the KVDA and West Pokot County to ensure that the dam is restocked throughout

She says the dwindling fish stock could open old wounds and might make the youth go back to cattle rustling.

“Let the restocking be done more often so that we do not miss fish because it is our bread. It has helped in reforming warriors. In case we run out of fish, young people here might opt to go back to stealing, which will be dangerous,” she said.

“I have stayed here (Riting) since the early 1990s, the first people to give us fish were KVDA and it was depleted.

“Our youth who were prone to stealing cattle from Turkana have realised that fishing is important and they can get money instead of stealing. Women too have an opportunity to earn money to pay fees.”

The residents are calling for more investment in fish farming to make it a sustainable economic activity.

“For this to be a long term, there will be a need for both the national and county governments to introduce more fingerlings,” said Lochero Losemwai.

Mr Losemwai, 25, was once time most wanted cattle rustler in the region but has now reformed and is keeping himself busy with the fishing and water transport business.

He says his boat transport serves mostly domestic tourists who visit the dam. “After my father bought a boat, it has helped me to earn myself around Sh4,000 per day.

“I can fish and sell to the women in Riting and Reres but also carry those who come here to enjoy the beauty of this dam,” he explains.

He also transports goods to the neighbouring villages.

“I transport shop commodities to traders in Kang’oletiang where I take three hours to reach Chepokachim, Murkorio and Kudung’ole,” he says.

According to Turkwel Beach Management Unit (BMU) chairman Lopuo Lotelekwang, the introduction of fish in the dam has boosted the security in the region.

“Before 2017, most Pokot were unaware of the importance of this dam and after the devolved unit introduced more than 5,000 fingerlings two years ago, the Pokot have now embraced fishing and it is helping them meet their daily needs. Most women are now able to educate their children from the earnings from this dam,” he says.

Mr Lotelekwang says fish trading between the Pokot and Turkana in the once volatile area has gained momentum.

“This dam remains the farm for the communities living around, there used to be inter-community clashes between Turkana and Pokot but now there is no such tension because the two communities have agreed to coexist peacefully. This fishing has bonded them,” he says.

“Now people are eating well because there is plenty of food. We are very happy. The Pokot can get fish in this dam and sell them on the Turkana, some go as far as Kainuk. When there is a lot of fish, a person can get between Sh1,500-3,000 per day,” says Mr Lotelekwang.

Now the youth are keen on training in knowledge and skills to improve their returns from the fish business.

“I think young people are the ones who are most responsible for fishing. About 90 percent of the fishermen are young. They are the ones who sew the nets.

“They are the ones who know all the tricks of the water here,” said Solomon Loita, a resident.

He said even though there are plans to close the dam for six months to allow the restocked fingerlings to mature, it should be reduced to at least three months saying the period is long and it would hurt the livelihood of the beneficiaries of the dam.

“This job has really helped me and I still just keep busy and this way I get what they read, how they eat, the house I pay for has helped me,” said Wilberforce Oundo, a fishman at Turkwel Dam who hails from Budalang’i in Busia County

The KVDA continues to support this project in restocking fingerlings, the supply of fishing material and training fishermen in safety while in the waters.

“Food security in this particular region is that fish will be able to support both food and nutritional security in the region,” said Sammy Naporos, managing director at the KVDA.

He says the State agency has restocked the dam with 200,000 fingerlings but it targets two million by March.

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