A group of residents in the drought-stricken Garbatula sub-County of Isiolo have gone against all odds to transform a five-acre piece of land in the arid region into a food basket.
Kinisa Self Help Group which comprises 28 men and women made contributions to enable them to pipe water from a community borehole that is two Kilometers away from their farm.
Currently, the group is successfully practicing horticultural farming in an area that has for years been perceived as dry and therefore unproductive, with the local communities living a predominantly pastoralist lifestyle.
According to the group chairperson Hajj Somo Roba, the group members have endured a wide range of challenges during their journey of farming, with the biggest challenge being pests and diseases and insecurity.
“We incur huge costs to control pests and diseases, also we do not have a reliable fence around it, therefore we have employed two people who keep watch day and night,” Roba said.
The guards prevent livestock and criminals who could easily access the farm and steal their produce.
“Our farm now produces a wide range of horticultural products ranging from Kale, onions, tomatoes, capsicum (pilipili hoho), fruits such as paw paw and other crops like maize and sorghum,” he said.
The members have also put a section of the farm under grass which is sold to livestock keepers as pasture.
As a group the move to take up farming has enabled them to demystify notions that the arid region is only viable for pastoralism, as their farm now offers a stark contrast to the dry conditions around it, with the area having not received adequate rainfall for the past three years.
Their efforts have now attracted help in terms of technical and financial assistance from E4IMPACT. This organization trains them on the modern ways of practicing agriculture as a business, in order to enable them reap maximum benefits from their effort.
Through the Drought Resilience in Isiolo County (DRIC) project that is funded by the European Union, the group members have benefitted from technical advice from experts, while a water tank and greenhouse have also been placed in the farm to enhance production.
E4IMPACT Project officer Leonard Ekea said that the current situation at the Kinisa farm was enough to prove that the area deemed as arid can be productive.
“We equipping the group members with information on the best practices of horticultural farming, in order to help them do farming as a business rather than just for their own consumption,” he said
He advised members of the local communities to emulate the efforts by Kinisa Self Help Group members and diversify their livelihood by venturing into crop farming, instead of relying only on livestock that are on the verge of being wiped out by the current prolonged drought situation.
Group Secretary Dirhamu Roba called upon the County Government and other development partners to also chip in and enable the group to erect a reliable fence to protect their produce.
“We intend to expand the farm but our challenge is water shortages we need a borehole,” Roba said.
The project has reduced distance for those selling horticultural products like tomatoes, sukumawiki and onions, who used to get them from Maua town in the neighbouring Meru County which is more than 100 kilometers away.
Ekea noted producing their own food stuffs also boosts money circulation in Garbatula town instead of spending their money on products from other areas.
“The next step is to form a networking group among horticultural farmers in Isiolo County in order to ease capacity building activities and also help them learn from each other,” he said.