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No regrets as herders trade cattle for crops

By Darlington Manyara | June 6th 2019
Meru County water executive Eunice Kobia (left), with other officials from her department, when they toured new horticultural farms at Epiding village. [Standard]

Francisca Nasieku inspects her nurseries for tree and fruit seedlings. 

Her farm has several nurseries and the seedlings are at different stages of growth.

She is all smiles as she peers at the thriving plants, satisfied she made a good move, in January, to switch from pastoralism to horticultural farming.

Nasieku says she has no regrets. The seriousness with which she has embraced the new venture is evident on her two and a half acre farm, located in Epiding village along the Meru-Isiolo border.

Her tomato crop is thriving. And Epiding Community Borehole, drilled by the county government of Meru, has come in handy, providing water for irrigation. Tomato crop

The county drilled several boreholes between March and June last year, some of which are providing residents with water for irrigation.

Nasieku says she also has her sights on pawpaws which she believes will do well too.

“As you can see, l have tree nurseries. I am doing some of these things to encourage my community on the importance of beautifying our surroundings. I will not stop farming. There are other projects I want to initiate,” she says.

Nasieku’s is a model farm. Although the area is generally arid, she has taken advantage of its productive soils to grow fruits, vegetables and trees.

She says she sells some of the different types of vegetables she grows to locals and takes the rest to a market in the nearby Isiolo Town.

“My farm has become like a model project for the community. Many residents have been coming here to see that l am doing and have replicated the same on their farms which have been turned into thriving businesses,” Nasieku says.             

Drilling of boreholes in the arid area has transformed livelihoods, with locals now ditching pastoralism for horticulture farming.

Accounts by residents, mostly from the Turkana community, and who for years practised pastoralism show the tide is changing.

Those that have turned to farming want the Ministry of Agriculture to send extension officers to the area to train them on best farming practices for increased production.

“Most of us in this community had been practising pastoralism. However, we saw an opportunity to get into crop farming after the boreholes were sunk,” says Nasieku.

Nasieku practices furrow irrigation. She says growing crops has minimised cases of cattle rustling between local communities, especially after some of the residents stopped keeping livestock.

Economic activity

“We grew up knowing livestock keeping as the only economic activity. However, we have since realised that farming is also a great venture. That is why we are asking both the national and county governments to send agricultural officers to give us tips on how to farm for increased production,” Nasieku says.

Joseph Lokuniyat had concentrated on animal rearing until recently when he ventured into crop farming. He says the area has been experiencing prolonged droughts but now there is hope after the boreholes were drilled.

“For many years, we have been fighting with members of other communities over pasture and water. There had also been many cases of banditry. However, things are changing as our focus switches from livestock to crops,” says Lokuniyat.

He adds: “We have another source of livelihood. We are cultivating tomatoes, spinach and kales.”

Lokuniyat too says he will also venture into growing pawpaws, which are known to do well semi-arid areas.

Epiding Borehole chairman Emmanuel Emoru said the facility can serve up to 800 people. He called on authorities to construct a reservoir to boost storage.

“After the Government drilled and equipped the borehole, they also donated a 10,000-litre tank. We appreciate this, but if we could get a large reservoir, more residents will get water,” Emuro says.

Ward Administrator Peter Edik says about 1,000 residents, initially pastoralists, have switched to crop farming.

Water executive Eunice Kobia said the county is keen to enhance access to water.

“Pastoralists should know they can also earn a living from farming. We are calling on members of our communities here to embrace irrigation farming. Local have also improved sanitation and hygiene thanks to availability of water,” Dr Kobia says.

She said the department of agriculture will dispatch extension officers to Muthara Ward to train pastoralists who have joined horticulture farming on the best practices. The government has drilled seven boreholes in the ward.

She said the county set aside Sh10 million thus year to connect more farmers to water.

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