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Where families starve as neighbours supply to the city

A farmer at his onion farm at Perkerra Irrigation scheme in Marigat, Baringo County, on November 2, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Mr James Nguranya lies inside his hut at Akwichatis village in Silale, Tiaty constituency in Baringo County. He is too weak to stand and too frail to speak.

His eyes are sunken. Alone, and with nothing to eat, he stares at nothingness outside through the spaces of his small hut, hoping for someone to offer him something to eat.

According to an administrator who accompanied the Saturday Standard team, Nguranya has done this for the past four days, and the results of his feeble, dart-eyed forays from the relative comfort of the grass-thatched hut have been the same nothing.

At 70, he cannot go out in search of something to eat, and recently, hunger took a toll on him, so he decided to stay inside his hut and hope that food will somehow find him.

Speaking through an interpreter, Nguranya says he has not eaten anything for days. “I am not sick. I am hungry,” he tells the Saturday Standard team. The father of seven is staring death in the eye. We gathered that his wife died years back.

A few kilometers from his homestead, we meet a fail Lopanga Tekete, a resident of Kadeli village in Ripkwo-Kositei ward.

Sitting in a shade, Tekete stares at the sand covering hundreds of barren land around him. Just like Nguranya, he too has not eaten for days.

The last time he put something solid in his mouth was when a team of NGO officials visited the area to assess the hunger situation. They donated some cereals.

When we arrived at his homestead, he was surviving on water. And at Toplen in Tiaty sub-county, Lochiangale Yerri is seen carrying a leather traditional bag. He looks frail and supports himself with a walking stick.

Abandoned by family

“I have not eaten for three days. I don’t know where my children are. I was abandoned by my second wife after the death of my first wife,” he says as he sniffs tobacco.

The 60-year-old man has resorted to sleeping in shop corridors as he looks for food. He would scavenge for leftovers but sometimes sleeps on empty stomach. Being an ex-warrior may have taught him how to persevere and endure hunger.

“During our days, we would walk for days without food, which has helped me adapt to the changing climate. We would survive with sugar and honey,” he said. Nguranya, Tekete and Yerri are among the 200,000 families facing starvation in Baringo County.

According to County Commissioner Abdirisack Jaldesa, the worst hit areas include Tiaty, Baringo North and Baringo South constituencies. 

Across the country, there are four million people in dire need of relief food. But hardly 50 kilometers away in Marigat area of Baringo County, farmers are drowning in plenty of food, and have been supplying urban centers.

Here, residents have plenty of food from the Perkerra Irrigation Scheme that has given them tomatoes, green grams, vegetables and onions grown using water from the Perkerra River. Water to the 10,000-hectare farm is supplied with gravity flow.

Joseph  Kimoi at his farm at Perkerra Irrigation scheme in Marigat, Baringo County, on November 2, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Mr Joseph Kimoi, a farmer in Marigat, said they have enough food. While irrigation has given the a lifeline, their neighbours who rely on menial jobs have been hard hit by drought.

Miriam Komen said she harvested 30 bags of maize recently on her one-acre farm, thanks to irrigation. “Our neighbours are surviving on wild fruits but we are well off,” she said.

Consumed locally

Mr Sammy Chebii, the manager of the Marigat Farmers Association, said food produced in the area is consumed locally and in other parts of the country. Traders from as far as Nairobi and Eldoret get tomatoes, vegetables and fruits from farms in Marigat.

In a good season, farmers supply up to eight million kilograms of seed maize to the Kenya Seed Company, earning a fortune. In the Marigat region, more than 5,000 people are doing irrigation farming.

“We have food but unfortunately, we can’t meet the demand,” he said, adding that prolonged drought had seen a drop in water levels in the river. Locals called on called on the government to prioritize the construction of the Radad Dam to allow them increase the size of land under irrigation.

“We can’t be drought-free unless we invest in infrastructure to do with water harvesting. Rains are becoming unpredictable. The solution is to have dams to store water for use during the dry spell,” he added.

Residents of Marigat rarely rely on rain-fed agriculture. The situation in Marigat is similar to what’s experienced in Nyandarua County. 

The county has been hit by potato glut, with the produce rotting in farms, as residents in the neighbouring Gilgil, Naivasha, Rongai,  Subukia and Nakuru East Sub Counties in Nakuru County face starvation.

Nyandarua farmers have incurred losses since there are no ready markets for the produce. The price of the commodity per bag has dropped from Sh3,500 to Sh1,500.

The areas affected by the glut are Kinangop, Milangine and Kipipiri. For Mrs Lucy Njeri, a farmer in South Kinangop, her fortunes have been ruined by the glut. “I had invested Sh100,000 in the potato project and expected to get double the amount in return. Upon harvesting, there was no market for the commodity. The buyers are buying at throw away prices,” she said. 

Pawpaws at Perkerra Irrigation scheme in Marigat, Baringo county on November 2, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Nyandarua Potato Growers Association official Wilfred Kimaru said farmers across the county had lost investments estimated at Sh20 million.

Relief supplies

But unlike these areas, Ndaragwa constituency has been hard hit by drought, forcing the government to distribute relief food to the area.

Woman Rep Faith Gitau blamed middlemen. “More than 30,000 families have been affected. We are liaising with the national government to make sure they get relief food,” she said.

To address the effects of drought and hunger, the Ministry of Interior received 1,200 bags of rice, 2,160 bags of beans and 600 cartons of corn beef for distribution to vulnerable households.

World Food Programme in August started a cash transfer programme targeting 2,778 households in Tiaty, Baringo North, Mogotio, Baringo South and Baringo Central sub-counties.

Each household will receive Sh6,500 for six months. World Vision on the other hand is carrying out a cash transfer programme targeting 1,762 households in Mogotio, TiatyWest, Tiaty East, and Baringo North sub-counties at a cost of Sh9,604,000 while the Kenya Red cross is targeting 3,036 homes with cash transfer whereby each household is receiving about Sh5,000 for three months in Tiaty, Mogotio, Baringo North and Baringo South sub-counties.

Food and Agriculture Organisation is providing another cash transfer programme targeting 1,200 households in Mogotio, Baringo South, Tiaty East, and Tiaty West sub-counties whereby each beneficiary is receiving Sh6,000.  

Reporting by Julius Chepkwony, James Munyeki and Yvonne Chepkwony

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