Enterprise

Tales of drowned livelihoods for Perkerra Irrigation farmers

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A flooded farm with maize stalks at the Pekerra Irrigation Scheme. PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • For over a half a century, the extensive 3,000 acres of farmland has provided local growers with livelihoods on its fertile soils.
  • But now, 64years later, its existence is facing total annihilation amid rising water levels from both Lake Baringo (fresh water) and Lake Bogoria (salty water).
  • The scheme’s equidistant to the two lakes further jeopardises its survival.

On the rugged plains of Marigat in Baringo County, the Perkerra Irrigation Scheme lies submerged in water, and with it the livelihoods of hundreds of households.

Under the blazing sun, maize, tomatoes, onions and kales plantations literally swim in water. This situation paints a grim picture for farmers whose hopes have drowned as acre after acre of crop is submerged.

For over a half a century, the extensive 3,000 acres of farmland has provided local growers with livelihoods on its fertile soils. But now, 64years later, its existence is facing total annihilation amid rising water levels from both Lake Baringo (fresh water) and Lake Bogoria (salty water). The scheme’s equidistant to the two lakes further jeopardises its survival.

Following heavy rains that pounded the area in the months of July and August, the two lakes swelled to unprecedented levels. In Lake Baringo, for instance, water level expanded by about 60 percent. The increased volume of water that drains into the lake from the Perkerra River exacerbated the problem.

Similarly, Lake Bogoria extended by a quarter to engulf 43km.

Consequently, the overflowing water spilled into nearby communities, sweeping away crops and businesses, putting in jeopardy their means of sustenance.

One of the farmers counting losses is Kevin Lekoseki whose three-acre farm lies underneath the flood water.

Mr Lekoseki shows us the extent of devastation as he steers around his farm on an improvised boat-like structure.

"Life has become hard as my only source of livelihood has been altered for good. Presently, I cannot sow any seed as the land is waterlogged," says Mr Lekoseki who resides in Ngambo.

Perkera scheme was first established in 1956 at a time the colonialists had declared a state of emergency in Kenya to clamp down the clamour for Independence. However the scheme was closed down in 1959 due to the small number of farmers. It was later allowed to operate but on a reduced capacity.

Fast forward to 1996, when farmers in the scheme embraced maize growing after they partnered with the Kenya Seed Company (KSC). Maize plantation was a roaring success and farmers abandoned or scaled down growing of pawpaw, chili, onion, cotton and watermelon, which were hitherto prevalent.

The ripple effect of the maize bumper harvest resulted in the expansion of the crop to neighbouring areas such as Mosuro, Kamoskoi, Eldume, Sandai and Kapkuikui. Their main sources of water include Molo, Waseges and Kiserian Rivers as well as Lorwai springs.

This vibrant enterprise is now threatened and farmers like Mr Lekoseko feel somewhat hopeless. He is now unable to fend for his 11 children as the backbone of their revenue streams has been cut off.

On his three-acre land, Mr Lekoseki could make more than Sh50,000 per season on maize plantations. However, this has now been washed away, and permanently so, if the lakes do not recede. He is lucky to have his 53 sheep that he was able to rescue. He however fears if water continues to rise he might as well lose his entire livestock.

"Since the crisis began, I have relocated more than three times from my home,” he says.

He implores the government to help relocate the residents.

"If possible, the government should relocate us to higher grounds where we can feel safer," he adds.

Another farmer, Issa lesambur has lost his two-acre farm. Water is everywhereon his farm, a sharp contrast to just a few months ago when it was a green carpet of vegetation. Now, his farm looks desolate and unnatural.

He annually plants maize, beans, vegetables (kales, onions and tomatoes) as well as green grass. However, he has not planted anything this year.

Sh100,000 is what he stands to lose this year, he reckons.

"The flooding water has made life difficult as I cannot till my land which is my sole source of income. Without it, I cannot survive," Mr Lesambur says.

According to the National Irrigation Board (NIB), the scheme supports about 13,000 farmers directly. This besides sustaining thousands indirectly on the larger Baringo and Nakuru Counties.

In 2018, farmers in the scheme planted 2,200-acres of seed maize for KSC and Monsanto on contract at a negotiated Sh66 per kilo.

Esleen Tarkok says since she came to the scheme from Kasoiyo in Kabarnet over 50-years ago, she has never seen water rise to that level.

"I have educated my children through the scheme’s incomes and never had I seen such a catastrophe," the 84-year old says.

Other farmers such as Lekikenyi Mathayo have lost two acres, George Nabori (six acres) and Kachuma Sadam (10 acres).

Marigat sub-county, where the scheme is situated, contributes about Sh54 million annually to the county coffers.