NYS to lease Galana Kulalu land in bid to revive irrigation project

The Government is reviewing the Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme. [Photo, Standard]

The Government is reviewing the Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme after poor yields in the initial phase of the project saw less than 25,000 bags of maize harvested, despite sinking over Sh7 billion of taxpayers’ money.

The latest move will see 100,000 acres at the million-acre scheme leased to the National Youth Service (NYS) in a bid to breathe new life into the project.

In the draft Budget Policy Statement for the 2019/2020 financial year, National Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry Rotich says the Government has opted to use part of the land for the growing of Bt cotton in efforts to revive the textile sector.

“The Government has allocated 100,000 acres at the Galana Kulalu Complex and the National Irrigation farm to National Youth Service to revive the cotton sector,” said Treasury.

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“In addition, the Government is in the process of improving infrastructure at the Athi River textile hub, Kinanie Leather Park, KIRDI Kisumu, South B branches and Rivatex.”

The project will serve as the first large-scale deployment of new genetically modified (GM) cotton varieties in Kenya such as Bacillus Thuringiensis (Bt) Cotton, recently approved by the Government for commercial use.  

In 2013, the Government proposed Galana Kulalu as a 1.2-million-acre irrigation project that would churn out 20 million bags of maize each year.

This would have made it the largest irrigation farm in East and Central Africa, eradicating the country’s food security challenges and making Kenya a major food exporter.

The project, situated in Kilifi and Tana River counties on land owned by the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), however appeared doomed from the start.

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Initial delays caused by poor funds disbursement and the quest for a private sector partner saw the pilot phase of a 500-acre farm delayed by two years.

The Government later halved the proposed acreage from 1.2 million acres to 500,000 citing lack of adequate water, and slashed the budget from Sh14 billion to Sh7.3 billion.

In 2016, the Government invited strategic investors to assist in developing the massive project, with then Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa optimistic on its viability.

“The current expression of interest for private investors has received overwhelming response from local and international investors,” said Mr Wamalwa in a briefing in early 2016.

Encouraging results

“Results of between 30 to 39 bags per acre per season for maize are positive and encouraging. We would like to assure Kenyans that Galana project will lower the price of unga to below Sh84 per two kilogrammes,” he said.

Last year, National Cereals and Produce Board acting Managing Director Alvin Sang told a parliamentary inquiry that the Government only received 22,000 bags of maize valued at less than Sh35 million based on market prices at the time.

The under-performance of Galana Kulalu despite the billions spent on boosting production further cast the light on the country’s perennial maize scandals, attributed to hoarding and the desire by well-connected people to make a quick shilling through cheaper imports.

In March 2017, Mr Rotich waived import duty on white maize in a bid to bring down the price of flour, which was retailing at Sh155 for a two-kilogramme packet.

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National Youth ServiceNational Treasury Cabinet Secretary Henry RotichRivatexAgricultural Development Corporation