Trouble is brewing in Kilifi and Tana River counties over the expansive Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme which was touted as the answer to Kenya’s perennial food shortage.
Many drought-hit families in the area are now blaming the project for the problems bedevilling them — including lack of grazing grounds and water shortage.
They are particularly irked by rice being distributed to them as relief food, which is imported from China, yet the five-year-old irrigation scheme is supposed to render hunger a thing of the past.
Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo and Magarini MP Michael Kingi have vowed to push for a motion in both the Senate and the National Assembly to hand the scheme to the county.
Mr Madzayo claimed the project had become another white elephant and had failed to address hunger in the region despite the government pumping billions of shillings to sustain it.
The Kilifi County assembly has passed a motion that could have far reaching consequences for the project. Adu MCA Stanley Kenga, who filed the motion, said the national government did not involve residents before initiating the project which has consumed a lot of resources in Magarini constituency.
“The people ought to have been consulted before initiating the project, which violated Section 114 of the 2013 County Government Act and part two of the fourth schedule of the Constitution,” he said.
Mr Kenga argued that funds invested in the project did not tally with the amounts the county had been receiving from the national government for the last four financial years.
“The project was initiated to address hunger, but we have nothing to show for it four years down the line, and people in Chakama and other parts of Kilifi are still suffering from hunger,” he said. “Agriculture is a devolved function and the national government should leave the project to the county.”
Mr Kenga further said the project had resulted in the drying up of River Sabaki-Galana, making life difficult for thousands of residents who used to depend on it for domestic use, agriculture and fishing.
In Tana River County, area leaders have on a number of occasions accused police officers manning the project of harassing pastoralists who graze their livestock near the irrigation project.
In December last year, Tana River Governor Dhadho Godhana, Senator Juma Wario and Garsen MP Ali Wario said they would push for laws that prevent the police or Kenya Wildlife Service rangers from harassing pastoralists to ensure they benefit from the project.
The Sh7.3 billion project covers about one million acres and targets crop production on 10,000 acres in Kilifi and Tana River counties.
On August 2014, the National Irrigation Board signed a Sh14.5 billion contract with an Israeli firm – Green Arava Ltd – to commence a pilot project in the Galana-Kulalu scheme.
To date, only 5,000 acres, out of the targeted one million, have been put under crop with calls for work to be fast-tracked after installation of five pumps.
Marafa MCA Renson Kambi, who represents a ward neighbouring the project questioned the logic behind the location of the farm at Galana while the silo is in Taita-Taveta County.
“Trailers ferrying maize to Voi through Tsavo East National Park for storage scare lions, forcing them to encroach on human habitats. This leads to human-wildlife conflict,” he said.
Mr Kambi said the farm yields too little compared to its capacity, adding that residents were fed up of receiving rice from China yet their land was being used to produce maize.
Kakuyuni MCA Nixon Mlamba said it was hard to get information on the project found in Magarini constituency.
“Once you ask for information from the engineers on the ground, they refer you to their bosses in Nairobi,” he said. “In 2015, two journalists and Tana River county officials who had gone to seek information were beaten by GSU officers manning the property.”
Former Nation journalist Nehemiah Okwembah and Citizen TV cameraman Reuben Ogachi said they were assaulted at Bombi while investigating claims that GSU officers were charging Sh1,000 per animal in order to release thousands of livestock belonging to pastoralists that had been detained at ADC Galana-Kulalu ranch.
Speaking during an interview in Malindi, Mr Mlamba said the assembly also sought to know how much money had been used in the project so far. He further said residents of Kilifi had remained poor after giving out their land for the investment, which ends up benefiting people outside the county.
Bamba MCA Christopher Mwambire said the assembly wanted to know why residents were still suffering from drought and hunger while the project consumed a lot of water and money.
“Why is the government distributing rice from China as relief food to residents instead of maize from the farm since it has invested billions of shillings at Galana-Kulalu?” asked the MCA.
Mr Johnson Nzai, a resident of Gongoni, compared the project with Vipingo sisal farming within the county where land was never given back to the community after the multimillion shilling investment lease expired.
“It is absurd that those working in the farm are people from upcountry who are allocating themselves the land and our leaders should resist the project by all means to avoid having another Mpeketoni in Kilifi,” he said.
Ms Neema Mwamure, a resident of Malindi, said she had hoped the price of a 2kg packet of maize flour to go lower following the project.
Last month, Kilifi MPs urged the national government to revert the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme to Kilifi and Tana River counties for failing to sustain it.