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What Thiba dam should herald in food production

Thiba Dam in Kirinyaga County overflows through the spillway three and half months after its completion that cost the Kenya government sh 7.8billion. [Muriithi Mugo,Standard]

President William Ruto on Saturday commissioned one of the most transformative dam projects in Mt Kenya region and, indeed, for the entire country. It has taken four years and Sh7.8 billion to construct Thiba Dam in Gichugu Constituency, Kirinyaga County.

The 15.6 million cubic metres dam was initiated by former President Uhuru Kenyatta on September 25, 2018. The privilege fell on President Ruto to open the multi-billion shilling and game-changer project. And the significance in continuity is not lost on many Kenyans concerned about the link between development and transition of political power.

Government projects should not stall just because individual leaders change offices. In the past, resources have gone down the drain after new political leaders assume power and discard previous projects. Governors and some MPs are mostly guilty of this malaise, especially with the advent of devolution a decade ago.

That said, Thiba Dam, President Ruto rightly noted will benefit Kirinyaga rice farmers and thousands of residents in the county. Currently, 25,000 acres of land are under rice production in the Mwea Irrigation Scheme. After the commissioning of Thiba dam, another 10,000 acres of land will be put under rice farming.

The increase could not have come at a better time as the country grapples with drought and about 3 million Kenyans facing starvation. Kenya is a net importer of food, which is unfortunate because we have enough land to do faming but several factors have hindered the venture. Besides the effects of climate change, which have brought erratic rainfall, there are challenges such as high cost of inputs and non-profitability for majority of smallholder farmers. President Ruto’s government should initiate sound agricultural policies and implement measures that make faming pay the small farmer well.

Should we harness rain water and use it prudently, Kenyan farmers can feed the entire nation and export the surplus. Political good will, government support and climate smart agriculture are the much needed ingredients for a food secure Kenya. The government can dismantle the cartels and middlemen who have had a stranglehold on Kenyan farmers for decades. Remove barriers and hurdles that make farmers unable to sell their produce profitably.

The commissioning of Thiba Dam should herald a new dawn for a country striving to avoid the shame of flagging off relief food to hunger stricken residents. It is unfortunate that nearly 60 days after the birth of the Republic, successive presidents have suffered the ignominy of lining up trucks full of food items to be distributed to starving Kenyans.

It is also a shame that cheap rice imports have flooded the Kenyan market while, the country sleeps on the potential to produce more of the commodity and contribute to food security.