Irrigation scheme greens Kenya’s arid zone

Jara-jara-irrigation-schemeThe re launch of Jara jara irrigation scheme in Balambala division, Garissa district by United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) some years back as part of the organization’s bid to address food insecurity in ASAL areas has been hailed as a step forward to food dependency in an area that has over the years heavily relied on relief aid.

45hectares of idle irrigable farm have been rehabilitated and planted with Basmati rice, at a cost of ksh7million.
The project has boosted the supply of irrigation water through relocation of the 650m intake canal and upgraded on-farm irrigation infrastructure.

The increased flow of 3 cubic meters per second from the main River Tana into the scheme has generated interest in 17 communally owned irrigation schemes  located along the canal with a total area of 50 hactares(120 acres), which on completion, will support 600 farmers. The canal has enabled rice farmers plant their crop through irrigation, increasing food crops production.

FAO deputy Country representative Dr Augusta Abate says the scheme is expected to increase food production and marketing from rehabilitated community managed schemes, after availability of certified seeds of drought tolerant crops by KARI.
Already 2,000kgs of rice seeds and 8mt of fertilizers have been distributed to 100 households who have benefited from the project. “ the impact of the project includes increased water availability for rice production, enhanced involvement and collaboration of various stakeholders, increased area under rice production and established health for increased production,’’ she says.

Jarajara rice scheme was started in 1972 for 100 households to grow rice for pastoralists by FAO and the ministry of Agriculture, but it collapsed in 1977 due to management problems that include dilapidated irrigation infrastructure, unavailability of certified seeds, quality inputs and lack of technical know-how.

The 1997 El nino rains devastated the scheme while River Tana changed its course leaving Balambala division without water for domestic, livestock consumption and irrigation. A farmer representative Mzee Hassan thanked the government and FAO for improving their livelihoods through the rehabilitation of the project, and provision of quality seeds to farmers. “This is a very noble initiative that if taken care of well by the farmers will go along way in ensuring that we are no longer begging for relief aid and our children are not dying or malnourished,” he said during the re launch. He requested donor agencies to support them acquire a modern Sheller for their rice.

The programme also includes a field day where farmers meet with experts from FAO, World Food programme and officials from the Ministry of Agriculture. Farmers are taught new and improved methods of farming in order to increase production. FAO hopes to roll out the programme to the entire North Eastern province within five years due to the success it has achieved in Jarajara.

A farmer Milkah Awal who owned a small shop has closed it to concentrate on the farm saying that it promises better returns. “When the project collapsed and there was word that it would be re launched, I laughed off the idea, but it has picked up so well and it promises good returns and that’s why I made a choice to concentrate on it, because I believe it will change my life and that of my family. I can tell you I will take my children to school with money from the scheme,” she says. Another farmer Adow walal hopes that better management of the scheme and farmers fully owning the project will “end the incessant wrangles and mistrust that brought the project to its knees and left us heavily impoverished.”

Garissa district is among the five towns mentioned as the most food insecure in Kenya by an assessment conducted in2009 by the Arid Lands Resource Management Project (ALRMP) and OCHA. There are about 12,000 people who rely on relief aid in Garissa with the nutrition status of children below five years continued to deteriorating to reach 16 percent of the children in the area.