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Collapse of Sh8b Galana-Kulalu a shame, says Israel diplomat

By Amos Kareithi | April 7th 2019
An emaciated Rosa Lokol sleeps outside her Manyatta at Lojere Emoit village in Turkana County as hunger ravages northern Kenya. [File, Standard]

Kenya has sent the wrong signals for allowing the collapse of a government-to-government project financed by Israel.

The project, which has tainted the country’s image and its commitment, is the flagship Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme, which has collapsed despite over Sh5 billion being spent.

Yesterday, Israel expressed its displeasure with the turn of events, with its ambassador, Noah Gal Gendler, saying this is the first project funded by the Israeli government in its 70 years of its existence to fail.

“Galana Kulalu project was destroyed by cartels made up of maize importers and millers. They were the reason the project was deferred from the beginning. This is the first project to fail. It was a government-to-government project,” Gendler said.

“This has dampened the spirit of business sector in Israel. It is very sad for the country. We have not given up but this is sending very bad signals. Some people might fear investing.”

Model farm

The flagship project was initiated in 2014, paving way for the signing of an agreement in August of that year between Kenya’s National Irrigation Board (NIB) and Israeli firm Green Arava Ltd to pilot a project in the Galana-Kulaluscheme.

The initial plan was to develop a 10,000-acre model farm in the one million-acre irrigation scheme for crop production in Kilifi and Tana River counties.

Gendler explained how the project was sabotaged.

He said at the start of the project, the Israeli government had opened a credit line of $80 million (about Sh8 billion) for Kenya out of which $65 million (about Sh6.5 billion) was used. The ambassador however said he had not given up on the project yet. According to the initial agreement between Israeland Kenya, a number of phases of the irrigation project were supposed to be implemented at different stages. Among the phases was the training of 250 Kenyans in Israel. They were to take over the mega irrigation project once it was up and running to ensure transfer of knowledge and technology. “This was at first deferred but they were later trained,” Gendler said.

The trainees were drawn from various public universities and colleges, and were flown to Israeli for a nine-month intensive training. However, the construction of milling centres and installation of drip irrigation systems were never done, dealing a blow to the project.

In the envoy’s estimation, the cartels feared that if the project, billed to be the silver bullet to Kenya’s food insecurity, was implemented it would kill their maize importation business.

“We have not given up. We do not have the luxury to give up. The project has given a very bad signal but we have opened a commercial section where Israel is willing to invest,” the ambassador said.

Revive it

He said the only hope remaining for the project is the incorporation of Kilifi and Tana River county governments. “If the project goes to the counties, the remaining credit line can be used. The money ($15 million) is enough to revive it. This will boost the food situation in the country,” Gendler said.

The envoy’s disclosure comes against the backdrop of simmering row between NIB and Arava, over a raft of issues ranging from non-delayed payments and slow pace of work, leading to a stalemate.

Last August, Green Arava was said to have de-mobilised its equipment from the project, claiming that it had been frustrated by NIB’s failure to pay Sh363 million for works already undertaken as agreed. NIB has in the past been quoted saying it had already paid Sh5.2 billion, out of the contract sum of Sh7.2 billion, leaving a balance of Sh1.2 billion. The value of the pending work, according to NIB is Sh989 million.

The collapse of the project has opened a new frontier as the Kilifi and Tana River governments are now making plans to revive it. According to the NIB, the first phase of the project was the establishment a 10,000-acre model farm. It was to be followed by phase two – a 400,000-acre farm.

By July last year, the NIB indicated on its website that 89 per cent of the project was complete as irrigation infrastructure for 5,000 acres had been done. “To date, 20 centre pivots have been installed covering 3,300 acres, pipes for drip irrigation covering 2,000 acres installed and construction of the two pumping stations are complete. Other ancillary structures are at different stages of construction,” reads a report posted by NIB.

The irrigation board further contended that 44,996 bags of maize had been sold to the State Department of Special Programmes and distributed as relief, while another 25,222 bags had been delivered to the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) for Strategic Food Reserve and an additional 5,556 bags sold to Kilifi County.

Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi said they are in the process of getting back part of the irrigation scheme for his county to put into use for food production. As a county, he said, they had volunteered 400,000 acres of land for food production under the scheme, but the project had become a cropper.

“We gave them our land to produce food and feed all Kenyans, what they have done is to use our land as a way to steal billions. Now we are saying we have capacity to utilise the land and produce food for all Kilifi people and Kenyans as well,” Kingi told the Sunday Standard.

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