County hopeful groundnut project will improve farmers' fortunes

Groundnut farmers in Turkana. The county has embarked on teaching locals on groundnut production for food security.

The news of a groundnut project that will seeks to propel Turkana County into a groundnut production hub has been received well by farmers.

Turkana County in partnership with a number of international organisations have launched a groundnut plan that will change the fortunes of more than 18,000 farmers.

The project is being championed by Turkana County government, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Insta Products and IKEA Foundation. Farmers are expected to grow groundnuts which are later exported to Argentina by Insta Foods.

To ensure the farmers who have been agro-pastoralists for ages are growing the crops under the right conditions, Egerton University is guiding them through the process. Through the project, each farmer is expected to make Sh144,000 per annum.

The Smart Harvest spoke to a number of farmers in Nanyee and Kalemnyang  who are part of the project in  on their expectations.

Josephat Emase and wife Margaret Akitela from Kalemnyang ventured into farming years back as a strategy to diversify their source of income and to stop dependence on food aid common in the arid and semi-arid county of Turkana County.

“We have been planting cowpeas and so far they have served well to boost our income,” Emase says.

Before the start of the project, Egerton University and the Turkana County government conducted trials for groundnuts and found out that it grows well in Turkana and especially at Kalemnyang.

The farmers planted two improved groundnut varieties developed by Egerton University. One is Ndovu (EUGN 1) that is large-seeded with high oil content and the second is Mwangaza (EUGN 2) that  is red and has high nutritional value. 

High nutritive value

Emase and his wife have a green field of ground nuts that is at the pegging stage.

The family has already benefited from the first harvest which they sold at Sh200 a kilo for the hand shelled groundnuts. To ensure that they harvest quality, Egerton university has ensured that they plant certified seeds.

Ms Agnes Esinyen, a community leader who also grows groundnuts at her farm at Nanyee Irrigation Scheme, says the groundnut project is a gamechanger.

She says through the project women have found a rich and affordable source of food for their children, who mostly suffer malnutrition.

“This is not only food to our children but we can also sell any surplus and get extra source of income. That way, we are slowly moving away from being dependent on food aid,” says Esinyen.

Esinyen, a mother of six children, is impressed by the newly introduced groundnuts and always ensures that it is part of her daily diet especially breakfast.

Mr Francis Ekiru, an expert at Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations representative Farmer Fields School, said they have trained community-based facilitator who are encouraging more farmers to grow the crop.

He said the field schools that are supported by the Turkana County are avenues where the new farmers learn and share practical and research based information that will boost their yields.

“We are banking on the field schools to facilitate more trials and field-level production of the crops through increased knowledge and skills. Our goal is also to change the mindset of locals on crops farming,”  Ekiru said.

Though the project has been received well, there are still teething challenges.

Salina Akiru, a farmer, said because many of them have been pastoralists for years, they have to work extra hard to grow crops and maintain their farms so that they can harvest something.

She also noted that feeding a growing population has been the biggest challenge because demand for food has been outweighing production. John Sinyen pointed out that the high demand for food, promoting livelihoods and environmental conservation, is a challenge.

“We are being told of this new challenge called climate change that has affected the weather patterns in most parts of the county. In Asal areas like Turkana, rain cannot be banked on. The future is more on irrigation. We want to learn how to irrigate properly and how to protect the environment as we produce food,” he said.

According to Philip Ekeno, clearing of bushes, elimination of Prosopis juliflora, a stubborn thorny shrub, has been a big challenge. He says bush clearing has been been worsened by lack of quality machinery.

“We have no tractors here. We are yet to mechanise yet we have enough land to till. The population is growing faster and food is increasingly becoming scarce,” Sinyen said.

Samuel Etir cited the blockage of irrigation canals which he noted had denied farms enough water during dry seasons.

“Continuous unblocking of the water systems will guarantee constant water supply to the farms,” he noted.

The encouraging bit is that the project has the full support of the county government and development bodies.

Governor Josephat Nanok, speaking during the launch of the Groundnuts Production Strategy in Lodwar, said the project is part of the county’s plan to make the region food secure and a leading food producer in future.

“The strategy is part of my administration’s effort to attain food and nutrition security, create employment, improve incomes for smallholder farmers through introduction of high yielding crops including sweet potatoes, sorghum, millet and soya beans,” Nanok said.

Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations representative to Kenya, Carla Mucavi, said 500 farmers have been trained on how to plant, manage and harvest the crop. Mucavi said the overrall target is to see 18,000-hectares under groundnuts with 15,000 farmers directly involved to make Turkana the leading producer county in Kenya within the next four years.

Insta Products, a food manufacturer based in Nairobi, committed to buy groundnuts from the region. As part of the initiative FAO and World Food Programme is providing technical support, Egerton University and Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation the scientific support and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will implement the project at the refugees camp in Kakuma and Kalobeyei.

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