Between the hills of Kapkamak and River Kerio in Marakwet West Sub County sits Kabonon-Kapkamak irrigation scheme that has transformed the lives of small scale farmers who hitherto were food insecure area.
The 1,800 acres scheme funded by African Development Bank (ADB) and the Government of Kenya at a cost of Sh 300 million has achieved food security through transfer of new farming technology creating employment to a critical mass of youth in the region.
Other main objectives of the irrigation fed scheme according the Ward Agricultural Engineer / Farm Manager Thomas Chemwaka are to mobilize the community to utilize locally available resources through trainings and environmental conservation.
Following establishment of the scheme farmers are now a blessed lot after their economic fortunes turned around following the production of certified sorghum and bean seeds.
The small scale farmers says they have bid farewell to abject poverty in the arid region with soaring temperatures courtesy of the good prices and guaranteed market for their crops offered by the firms.
Apart from the sorghum and beans, the farmers also derive good returns from the sale of green grams, tomatoes, maize, vegetables, groundnuts, watermelon and cassavas.
Leonard Yano who abandoned his electrician job says: “In 2012 I decided to quit my electrician job in Kabarnet town where I was earning Sh 15,000 per month when I realized that the pay was too meagre to sustain myself , family and other siblings”, he narrates.
Yano, a father of two, says from his one acre sorghum farm he gets an average of Sh 120,000 and another Sh 30,000 from sale of Chelalang variety of beans which he plants on a half an acre land.
The 28 year old farmer plants Serena sorghum, a variety that does very well in the arid and semi-arid region and currently has ready market in the brewing and seed industries.
The results from the sorghum which for years has been treated as a traditional crop with a low esteem has seen a staggering harvest for the young man whose self-pity for a white colar job is long gone.
In last season, Yano who cultivates other cash crops with attractive prices says, he harvested 22 bags of maize from his one acre shamba earning him Sh 66,000 in a span of three months only.
“Last year I also harvested four and half bags of green grams retailing at Sh 350 per 2kg tin, generating about Sh 60,000”, he said.
From the proceeds, Yano who is the scheme secretary proudly states, he has managed to build a modern house, educated the mother of his children through college, bought dairy cows besides enrolling his kids in local academies.
Paul Lomuria, a tomato farmer says in August last year he realized more than Sh 240,000 from the sale of 800 crates harvested from his three acre land. A crate sells at Sh 300.
In 2014, Lomuria, 64, lured to the area by the attractive economic prospects from his Baringo County earned a whooping Sh 300,000 from the sale of water melon.
Lomuria who leases land from the locals and plants Rio Grande and Nuru 1 varieties of water melon says he was not about to leave the region so soon despite the current escalating attacks from cattle rustling.
“In a good season, grade “A” crate of tomatoes goes for Sh1000.But it comes down to Sh 600 per crate when production is high. For instance last year when there was shortage of the commodity prices never come below Sh 1500”, Mzee Lomuria argues.
Mr Chemwaka told KNA at the farm that currently over 1,300 acres of the scheme has been fully developed by more than 800 active farmers who plough on average one acre each.
The establishment of the scheme, the farm manager said, has seen revival of market centres which had remained dormant, among them Koitilial, Kapkata and Kilos.
Mr Chemwaka identified maize, green grams, tomatoes, sorghum and cassava as some of the enterprises which have performed well since 2013.
“Last year maize whose acreage under cultivation stands between 800-1000 acres earned farmers more than Sh 25 million, Green grams which sells like hot cake generated Sh 27 million”, he disclosed.
An acre of green gram plantation, Chemwaka revealed, earns a farmer on average Sh 50,000 with a sack going for about Sh 10,000.
Ward Agricultural Officer Isaac Macharia added that farmers engaging in green gram farming in most cases smile all the way to the bank as produce fetches attractive prices even at the farm gate.
In a good season and under proper crop husbandry unlike maize an acre of green gram produces about 360 kilogrammes per acre. Currently a kilogramme fetches been Sh 125 and Sh 150 depending on supply.
“Farmers in the area plant KS20 variety which matures faster and has no sunburn. They are soft and cook faster. The crop only takes 60 days to mature”, the agricultural officer reaffirms.
However, he cites weaver birds as the biggest challenge faced by green gram farmers stating that one has to employ people who will report to the farm before6am and leaves shortly after 6pm daily to scare away the birds.
“Imagine this business of scaring these nuisance birds last for between 2-3 weeks. Harvesting is another challenge. Picking one pod which is ripe is tiresome and tedious indeed”, Macharia underscored.
The extension officer also mentions operational and maintenance costs as very high because pipes keep on breaking due to soaring temperatures coupled with huge volume of water exerting pressure.
“The amount of money being collected from registered farmers is not adequate to run the scheme. A farmer is supposed to pay Sh 100 every month but most of them don’t pay thus making the work of maintaining the pipes very difficult”, he laments.
Mr Macharia says it is in the light of the huge task to ensure food security that the ministry of agriculture is aggressively educating farmers on the need to adopt the production of traditional crops as part of efforts to fend off hunger and improve their economies.