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Letter from Marigat: Future of this country is in arid lands

Xn Iraki
 President WilliamRuto admires some of the goats which were presented for auction during the Kimalel Goat auction held at Kimalel kimalel grounds Baringo County. [File, Standard]

Just before the exams we usually do a rehearsal. My Christmas rehearsal was a trip to Marigat in Baringo. It's 256km from Nairobi.

I last took that route about two decades ago, when the Lake Bogoria geysers were active and spectacular. Are they still there? I never went beyond Marigat.

Beyond Kabarak, the vegetation changes and the landscape too. It becomes flatter, drier and less populated. Towns with interesting names interrupt the Nakuru-Sigor road. One small town is NATO. Is that a local name?

This was a learning and thinking trip, inspired by curiosity and nostalgia.

The first lesson is that despite all the focus on well-watered highlands, the economic future of this country lies in the semi-arid and arid lands (ASALs). They make up the bigger part of the country and their "virginity" means we can correct the mistakes made in the other parts of the country. Baringo, from this trip, could be a microcosm of this economic future. Let me try and explain.

One, the Kimalel goat auction was ongoing. Through auctions, we get the best prices for any service or product. Forgot the mean-looking auctioneers.

The goat market should be developed further with futures and options. Farmers will take care of their goats to get the best price in auctions.

I took goat meat at Junction Resort near Marigat and loved it. Only women work in this resort, just like cashiers in Quickmart supermarkets. If that meat can be branded, we could find the owners making much more money.

I saw the goats eating flowers and leaves from trees perhaps why that meat is so tasty. I hope one day I shall find "Marigat" or "Mogotio" mutton on sale in Nairobi and beyond. Don't we buy Molo lamb? Why?

I saw lots of chicken on sale, but definitely not broilers. Our health consciousness means there is a big market for natural food. Curiously, cattle were not prevalent as goats which are handy and less expensive to keep. More the reason this goat market should be developed includes going online.

Two, and there is a lot of trust in Baringo. At the Junction, I took a soda and ordered some goat meat. I requested the waiter to pay for a soda first, go visit Marigat town then come back for my meat. "You will pay for the soda together with meat ..." she told me. Off to Marigat where I saw one of the most beautiful bridges in Kenya. Would that happen in Nairobi?

Is trust the reason women are hired in that resort? Trust is one of the missing ingredients in business.

Mistrust raises the cost of running the business and slows its expansion.

Two, water is a problem but I saw bold attempts to dig boreholes and build dams. The height of the few bridges leaves no doubt flash floods are common.

We could harvest that water, build bigger dams and make that land thrive. Leaders from Baringo should visit Southern California and see how deserts have been tamed.

Money minter

Three, lots of stones and quarries punctuate the landscape. I guess that is where building stones in Nakuru are mined. They are beautiful with many colours. This is one economic activity that could be expanded.

Ndarugu is famous for building stones. Baringo could be the next Ndarugu. With most forests cleared; this is a gold mine.

Add the fact that stone houses are associated with status and that is unlikely to change any time soon. Any branding of building stones eg Emining Stones?

Four is honey on sale in the market centres and roadsides. If only they could assure quality. This is a money minter. Honey has so many uses that Baringo can't satisfy the market. Branding again. It is so hard to get natural honey and once you become a customer to suppliers they start going through shortcuts with "artificial honey ."

Five and surprisingly is firewood on sale by the roadside. Motorbikes carrying up to six bags of charcoal that are common in the region that is already disadvantaged by nature.

I followed the charcoal trail up to Marigat without reaching its end. Where does that charcoal come from? What if alternative energy sources like gas or solar?

Six is tourism. This should be the key industry there. Start with the varied landscape with hills, valleys, dry river beds, lakes and beautiful anthills!

Why not organise a yearly photographic competition of anthills?

They are more like pyramids and are everywhere. The lakes and their flora and fauna are natural attractions. What of the traditions of the communities that live there? And their foods?

We are dreaming of reclaiming the planet Mars. Why not start with what's down here on this small planet?

Did I see watermelons grown in Baringo? We can start with Baringo and go to others counties, transforming arid and semi-arid counties into epicentres of economic growth like Arizona or Nevada.

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