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Railway line project rekindle hope among the farmers in Butere

By Brian Kisanji | March 23rd 2021

Farmers in Kakamega County are among those upbeat about planned revival of the Kisumu-Butere railway line, with the hope it will boost local economy.

The farmers said the project would once again enable them to transport farm produce, including indigenous vegetables, to Nairobi cheaply and more reliably.

Selpher Akhonya, a farmer from Butere, said the railway line would offer them a more secure cargo transport system as opposed to road transport, which he said was also more costly.

Mr Akhonya, 69, was among vegetable farmers who relied on railway transport to ferry his produce it collapsed in the late 1990s.

“I used to grow vegetables on my 10 acres those years. We have since switched to maize farming,” he said.

Butere was among the fastest growing towns in Western Kenya those days, thanks to the railway line.

The railway also went through Kisian, Lela, Maseno, Luanda, Yala and Namasoli trading centres.

Like many other farmers in the area, Akhonya recalls the good old days when they made money from farming, thanks to a reliable means of transport. His farm, he says, was just a few metres from the railway terminus.

Hudson Ambeyi, 65, regrets the day the trains stopped working.

“We would lineup at the railway terminus everyday with our farm produce, waiting for the train to arrive, so we could sell to passengers. The blaring horn would be heard from a distance thereby alerting everyone,” says Ambeyi.

He said they would have up to two hours to sell their goods every time the train stopped until it left.

Other than vegetables, the farmers also sold arrow roots, groundnuts, sweet potatoes, pumpkins and avocados.

Buyers would travel to Butere, using the train, to buy the farm produce.

“My father had a butchery at Butere Town and would use the train to transport cattle from from Marigat twice a week to a slaughter house here,” said Ambeyi.

The railway line reached Kisumu in 1902 before it was extended to Butere.

However, things changed when the train changed its daily routine and reduced. It also cut its trips to Butere from three every week to just one.

“Ordinarily, the train would make trips on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. The development dealt residents, especially farmers, a huge blow as their fortunes started to dwindle after their market for their fresh farm produce went down with the railway,” said Ambeyi.

The iconic Kenya Railways offices and a cereals go-down are the only reminder of the once vibrant railway line in Butere.

The Kenya Railway Corporation Managing Director Philip Mainga had said the meter gauge railway line will be rehabilitated as part of the Jubilee administration’s Big Four Agenda.

The railway line from Bungoma, through Eldoret, to Nairobi has already been launched after completion of rehabilitation works.

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