In 1989, when River Tana changed its course, it wasn’t good news for many farmers who relied on the Tana irrigation scheme as they had their line of livelihood shut for lack of water, impacting negatively on their farming.
A decade later, the irrigation scheme was restored and farmers are now back to their farming activities, raking in up to Sh200 million in returns from a full cycle of different crops.
The scheme has become one of the model farms where different commercial crops are grown to showcase the potential that irrigation has in arid areas that are deemed not favourable for farming.
Adnan Umuru, a farmer in the region has been able to not only educate his children through the proceeds coming from the farm, but he no longer depends on the government for food bailout to feed his many mouths.
“When the scheme collapsed after the river changed its course, we were left with nothing, we only sat and waited for government to help us with food because irrigation is our lifeline,” said Mr Umuru.
The scheme, which has a gazetted area of 12,000 acres, directly benefits more than 1,500 households who own about 1.25 acre each.
Initially, the Tana scheme was so popular with cotton that at some point it produced 40 percent of the country’s total production.
Today, National Irrigation Authority (NIA), which manages the scheme, has diversified the scheme into different other crops in order to make farming a commercial enterprise for farmers.
At the scheme, farmers are now growing maize, rice cotton and other high value horticultural crops to sustain their economic lives.
Mr Umuru, who is also the chairman of the Tana Farmers’ Cooperative group, says growers have benefited from different seasons of different crop cycle, empowering them economically.
James Kirimi, NIA scheme manager at Tana scheme said farmers have just completed growing seed maize for supply to the processing companies and they are now preparing for a second crop.
“Farmers have harvested this season’s crop and the lands have already been prepared for the next season,” said Mr Kirimi.
Mr Kirimi says that farmers earned 30 million from the seed crop alone in the just ended season, which was up from Sh20 million that they earned in the previous period. They earned Sh67 for a kilo of maize seed this year, which was higher than the previous season where they were paid Sh62.
NIA manages the scheme on behalf of farmers and they charge Sh3,400 to a farmer for an acre as administrative fee after every season.
The irrigation agency is currently putting up a gravity system of water conveyance, which is under construction and once completed, it will lower the operational costs of the scheme, giving farmers an opportunity to earn even more.
The farmers are linked to buyers through contractual farming and are assured of market at the end of the day.
“With a signed contract with the buyers, market is no longer an issue here as farmers grow their crop in full awareness that there would be a market for their produce,” said Mr Kirimi.
For seed maize, farmers are contracted by different seed maize companies, and growers also plant commercial maize for food where at times they get contracts from international food agencies. The agency seeks to expand the current Irrigable area of 12,000 acres at Bura scheme with the new gravity system to reach 25,000 acres in the near future.