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Lodwar women embrace farming to beat hunger

Lodwar women are combating hunger one step at a time by embracing farming. -SAMMY LUTTA
Lodwar women are combating hunger one step at a time by embracing farming. PHOTO | SAMMY LUTTA | NMG 

Before being introduced to farming last year, Elizabeth Lokopon, 46, was among hundreds of Turkana County residents who mainly relied on livestock as source of livelihood. Being pastoralists, farming was a strange occupation for them.

The mother of five from Natoot village in the outskirts of Lodwar town said that despite relying on livestock, frequent drought would occasionally wipe them out due to lack of pasture exposing them to hunger and starvation.

Ms Lokopon, a widow said the situation, would now force him to depend on unreliable relief food distribution from the government and humanitarian agencies.

"Being a resident at a village less than 10 kilometers away from Lodwar town is a major shortcoming as we are disadvantaged for living close to the 'abled rich'."

She tells Enterprise as she attends to healthy tomatoes at her block that are relying on drip irrigation system that is connected to a solar-powered borehole.

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She is now among 78 farmers at a four-and-half hectares Full Gospel Church of Kenya Natoot Farm Project.

Before the project was commissioned in mid 2018 she had never used a jembe or planted any crop.

"I was amused after learning that I had to wait for someone to provide me with free food - mainly maize and beans that can't last for a month when after free training, I can use my hands to grow enough food for my family and the surplus sold for income," said Ms Lokopon who also grows collard greens (Sukuma wiki), cowpeas and spinach said.

According to the Farm Project Coordinator Victor Juma, the farmers have been grouped into five blocks.

"Each farmer is entitled to a portion measuring 28 meters by six meters that has three drip lines. A farm assistant assigns the blocks and decides on what to be planted and how to do it," Mr Juma explained.

To limit concentration of pest and diseases, to boost crop yields, improve soil structure and maintain soil fertility, they are embracing crop rotation.

"Spinach, collard greens and cowpeas have now matured at my block in just 35 days after planting This means I have food and money," a vividly jovial Ms Lokopon said.

Mr Juma said that for sustainability, they are ensuring that the vegetables are sold as under one umbrella.

He said that block leaders oversee the sell of the vegetables to nearby Lodwar town and all funds are out in one basket. The farmer earns 50 percent of the sales from his farm.

"The remaining funds will take care of seedlings, farm staff wages, fertiliser and bonuses saved to be given to farmers in small groups that were formed with the objective of transforming their lives like building decent houses," he said.

Ms Nakapon said that she is able as a mother now to do some shopping for her daughter Esther Nakwan who is currently a Form Two at Alliance Girls High School.

"Despite my daughter's fees being paid by Missions of Hope organisation, I know she is always motivated when she knows that her mother has bought her something during visiting day." She said.

She noted that her children easily access balanced diet thanks to the farm project.

"In Turkana culture women don't have a say on slaughtering or selling livestock. That is why I encourage each women in the county to have a farm garden where she can get food for the family and sometimes money to buy anything she wants." Ms Nakapon said while stressing that a family that has both a farm and livestock is very rich one.

Mr Simon Loote, the Project Founder, said that people in Turkana are much in need of fresh vegetables and it is his desire for the county government and leaders to prioritise farming so that many of the locals kick out hunger.

"Turkana has large track of fertile land, we only need to allocate more resources to agriculture to stop over reliance on Kitale, Kapenguria and Uganda for vegetables, fruits and cereals," Mr Loote said.

Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok reiterated that agriculture was key to solving food shortage in the vast county.

He said that his administration has stepped up farming activities through irrigation to increase food production.

"We are redoubling our efforts to produce more food through innovative irrigation systems. Whenever it rains, the county experiences destructive floods. We are now investing in flood-based irrigation system in areas prone to floods so that the water is harvested and directed to farms." Mr Nanok said.

The governor said that war against recurring hunger and starvation in the county was dependent on expanding land under food production.

He said that they are preparing land at Nadung'a village in Turkana North Sub-County where more than 1,400 acres will be put under crop production through the flood-based farming system.

County Director of Agriculture Paul Lokone said that they are also rehabilitating Elelea surface irrigation scheme in Turkana East Sub-County that rely on River Kerio which is always full whenever it rains or floods.

The rehabilitation works include; bush clearing along the main canal, excavation of 800 metres main earth canal, reinforcement of 800 metres concrete lining and construction of four main division boxes.

Mr Lokone said that lining of the canal is meant to improve supply and efficiency of water flow to the farms by avoiding seepage losses along the conveyance.

"We are prioritizing on growing drought resistant crops like sorghum and cowpeas for high returns." He said.

To support small scale farmers venturing in horticulture, the county official said that the Turkana County government is partnering with Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations to roll out new sorghum, cowpeas and groundnuts varieties in the county that has great agricultural potential.

Mr Lokone said that due to effects of climate change, the devolved unit is shifting to drought resistant high value crops.

He said that they have established a trial farm

at Natiira village in Turkana West Sub-County under a pilot project for sorghum, groundnuts and cowpeas intercrop.

"We are monitoring new hybrid varieties we received from Egerton University that include hybrid sorghum EUHS1 variety. For groundnuts we have EUGN1 and EUGN2 varieties." The county government official said.

He said that they are also planting local or traditional sorghum and groundnuts varieties which they will compare after maturity.

" The trials are aimed at determining the best sorghum monocrop, the groundnuts monocrop and the best sorghum-cowpeas intercrop for Turkana county." Mr Lokone said.

He noted that other trial farms are at Kalobeiyei in Turkana West Sub County and Nanyee irrigation scheme in Loima Sub-County.

He said that the county has a high potential for sorghum production but the challenge has been lack of a reliable hybrid seed production system and proper crop management.

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