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Youth embrace irrigation farming as bandits kill pastoralism dreams

tomatoes

Elizabeth Lokopon attending to tomatoes on April 3, 2020. PHOTO | SAMMY LUTTA | NMG

Summary

  • In Turkana, longstanding lack of political goodwill towards farming discourages many from embracing the venture.

After completing his secondary school education in 2015, Arnest Lomuria, 28, was limited to seeking handouts from politicians since his family had lost all livestock to bandits from neighbouring West Pokot County.

One of the few exceptions to this routine was his neighbour and agemate Michael Losokon, who had taken up farming and was earning some money selling fruits and vegetables to locals who otherwise relied on supplies from further south in the Rift Valley.

"He told me that he was a member of Israel Youth Group that was formed in 2012. Together with other youth, they were engaging in irrigated farming due to the fact that none of them could keep any large number of livestock without attracting bandits," Mr Lomuria says.

The now 30-acre farm that the group tills was a battlefield where communities fought over livestock. It is covered in different crops that include maize, tomatoes, bell pepper, pawpaw, onions, bananas and yellow-fleshed sweet potatoes.

Sh40 a kilo

Mr Lomuria joined the group and like any new member, he was trained in how to farm and mentored on accessing the market.

"Within months, I became the bread winner in my family that was primarily relying on relief food for survival. We had enough vegetables and maize that significantly reduced hunger and poverty," Mr Lomuria says as he harvests pawpaw for a customer. The trees are intercropped in a large maize field.

He earns Sh40 per kilo of pawpaw, and from that one customer alone he made Sh400.

"We are expecting to harvest maize on our 10 acres plantation this month. However, the market is not favourable, because every farmer is looking to sell their produce at nearby Katilu centre; a 90-kilogramme bag of maize is selling at between Sh1,700 and Sh2,000,” Mr Lomuria adds.

Despite the low prices, he and his fellow farmers are far better off compared to their peers who rely on handouts, or even go into banditry with eyes on a few animals.

For an area where farming has not always been a way of life, it has taken a big leap of faith for people such as Lomuria to venture into agribusiness.

They are attracting more young people to irrigation farming though because their families always have enough to eat even when others are relying on relief food when rains fail and there is no pasture for livestock.

The Israel Youth Group has appealed to local leaders to support youth in farming through grants that can be used to expand farms, seed capital to invest in high-value seeds and to offer transport when moving produce to more favourable markets across the county.

In Turkana, longstanding lack of political goodwill towards farming discourages many from embracing the venture.

Persistence, commitment

The group’s persistence and commitment to tackle food insecurity in Turkana and boost their income has attracted financial support from PanAfricare Organisation through its IMPACT Programme that is in turn financed by Bayer Fund.

The organisation has helped by repairing canals that direct water to the farm, donating yellow-fleshed sweet potato tubers and providing extension services.

"We appeal to the organisation to also help us get a reliable market because we are embracing the tubers for crop rotation," says Mr Losokon.

Kassim Lupao, a nutritionist at PanAfricare, says that in partnership with Turkana County they are expanding farms under irrigation through repairing canals or constructing new ones to accommodate more farmers facing hunger in Katilu and Turkwel wards as well as distribution of seeds of highly nutritious crops.

"The organisation has been ploughing using tractors as well as expanding farms by clearing thorny prosopis julifulora (mathenge) thickets," Mr Lupao said.

Through such support, Mary Amekwi, who is a farmer allied to the group said that she has a half-acre land where she produces cowpeas, spinach, green grams, tomatoes, kales, and watermelon after being given seeds from PanAfricare that are now her source of income and food.

"I sell most of what I get from my farm at my stall located at Katilu shopping centre. I use the money to pay school fees for my seven children, buy drinking water, school uniforms, and other food such as maize that I do not grow,” she said.

Apart from the Israel Youth Group farm, other youth-oriented farming groups are based at the 400-acre Namakat farm and the 260-acre Natuntun farm.

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