For many people, the mention of Turkana County conjures images of emaciated villagers ravaged by hunger and conflict.
But then, many people have never been to Moruese Irrigation Scheme at the foot of Moruese Hills in Loima — a small green paradise in the middle of a simmering wilderness.
Here, Alice Aboilil, draped in her shuka with Turkana beads garlanding her neck, inspects her lush maize farm, occasionally bending to pull out some overgrown weeds.
Her bubbly six-year-old daughter tags along, munching roasted maize.
Welcome to the other side of Turkana. Something good is coming out of these sun-baked sandy soils.
The 600-acre irrigation scheme draws its water from River Turkwel. The water is channelled in canals from the river to the farms that directly feed 600 families, and thousands of residents in surrounding communities.
"In the past we used to depend on rations from the Government, but now we have plenty of food. There is no hunger here anymore," says Aboilil.
It is not just maize that grows in the scheme. The farms are bursting with a variety of crops including beans, maize, sorghum, green grams, millet, vegetables, bananas, watermelon and tomato, all of which seem to defy the searing heat around them.
The irrigation scheme is slowly changing Turkana from a vast, desolate theatre of conflict and hunger to a bastion of hope for both man and beast.
“We get food for ourselves and our livestock from the farms. People from far and wide come here to buy food for themselves and their animals. Those without money exchange their animals for food,” says Akiru Ereng,
In a region notorious for its erratic weather, the scheme supplies food all year round.
According to Peter Lopawoi, who chairs the irrigation, it started in 1978, initially as a rain-fed farming project. But as the rains reduced and became more unpredictable, the scheme almost ground to a halt.
“Turkana receives a maximum of 250 mm of rain in a year and the crops at the scheme would wither because of the erratic rains. We had nothing to harvest over the years,” reminisces Lopawoi.
In 2014, the county government with the support of the World Food Program (WFP) and a host of other donors, revived the scheme and the fortunes of 600 families behind it.
First, contractors moved in to dig canals form the Turkwel to the farms. And when the water started flowing, the county's agriculture department came in with free seeds and training for the farmers.
“After clearing the bushes, the county gave us certified seeds of different crops and supported us to plant them. Water scarcity was no longer an issue,” says Lopawoi.
Each family runs a one-acre farm with two or three planting seasons per year, depending on the crop.
Lopawoi has an ambitious plan for the scheme he heads, chief among them being expansion from the current 600 acres to something bigger and more productive.
“We intend to increase the acreage to 3,000 acres and reach more people,” says Lopawoi.
He wants the canals cemented to ensure that not a single drop of water is lost to the dry sandy soils around them on its way to the farms. This, and more training for the farmers, he says, will expand the little green paradise in the middle of Turkana.
“There is huge potential here, but we need more training because historically,we have been pastoralists not farmers," he says.
Agriculture Executive Chris Imana says Moruese is part of a larger success story rapidly unfolding in Turkana County.
“We have 40,000 acres under irrigation in the county which have greatly reduced cases of famine in the region," he said.
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