Animosity, ethnic conflict killed 'noble' Kenya Red Cross irrigation project

Rusted pipes in the Tot-Kolowa Irrigation Scheme in Tiaty, Baringo County. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]
Pipes laid between 2012 and 2014 are dry and rusted, and the land is now bushy. Anthills as tall as five metres high are all over the land.

This is the current situation at the 1,000-acre Tot-Kolowa Irrigation Scheme in Baringo County.

In the Sh245 million Kenya Red Cross project, about Sh160 million was spent on laying pipes on the parcel of land.

Water for use at the irrigation scheme was sourced from River Embombut in Elgeyo Maraket. Baringo County was to do 500 acres while Elgeyo Marakwet cultivates the remaining 500 acres.

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The project was not only meant to address the issue of food security but also to bring the two warring communities of Pokot and Marakwet together.

But now, all that remains of the noble project are rusty pipes in the bush, some of which have been vandalised, thanks to persistent insecurity.

The Kenya Red Cross Society says it did not abandon the project, but it stalled due to the persistent conflict between the Pokot and Marakwet communities.

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"Historically, the two communities have never had peace. The Marakwet were not happy to have their water used by the Pokot and pipes were disconnected.

Despite the communities signing a peace pact, the conflict went on," says Noela Musundi, the society's Public Relations and Communications Manager.

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Meshack Narem, a resident, says he was among the first farmers to cultivate land in the scheme between 2012 and 2013. He cultivated half an acre and harvested over 40 bags of maize. He describes the land as virgin.

He says the Pokot and Marakwet do not see other eye to eye. Their animosity dates back in 2014 when two clans in Marakwet fought over land.

“The clans of Kapisioch and Kapsiran were battling over land. Kapisioch was displaced and they sought refuge among the Pokot.

The Kapsiran community attacked us, asking why we accommodated their enemies,” says Narem.

Since the source of water was River Embobut in Elgeyo Marakwet, water supply to the scheme was disconnected and the project literally died.

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Narem says in the short period that the scheme was in operation, many residents benefited. They had two planting seasons in a year.

Musundi now says they have no problem resuscitating the project but the society lacks funds. 

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Kenya Red CrossTot-Kolowa Irrigation SchemeBaringoHunger