Stung by drought, Isiolo pastoralists try hand in irrigation

A resident of Isiolo county at Garabatura who have embraced the Agro Pastoralists farming in the region through the National irrigation Authority. [Jacob Kaimenyi, Standard]

Isiolo County for many years has been known to be a dry area where most residents depended on livestock farming.

But climate change has forced some of the residents to change tact as shortage of pastures becomes a perennial annual circle and conflicts with neighbouring communities escalate.

Chief Hassan Galgalo from Galabatula, says the National Irrigation Authority (NIA) provides and coordinates the successful Rapsu Irrigation Project amid efforts to increase food production in the region.

Galgalo said access to water before the project came into being was a big problem that led to conflict with the neighbouring community in Meru County. 

So far, more than 258 households within Isiolo County are benefiting from the Rapsu Irrigation Project.

Galgalo said residents are spending less buying cereals, vegetables and milk with a direct effect being the growth of the population of children attending school in the area from 100 to 300 currently. 

But the new farming community is facing a big challenge from wildlife invasion coming from the Meru County National Park.

NIA Mt Kenya East regional coordinator Gitonga Mbijiwe said they are trying to resolve the crisis in collaboration with the Kenya Wildlife Services to stabilise farming in the scheme.

Rapsu Irrigation Project is located in Isiolo County, and the area under irrigation stands at approximately 182 acres.

Farmers plant pawpaws, onions, tomatoes, kales, hay grass among other crops. The freshly harvested grass is stored and used to make hay. Agro pastoralists have been able to make the most out of the hay production which has sustained livestock production even when there is a pasture shortage in the rangelands.

"Given that the majority of beneficiaries are pastoralists, Rapsu Irrigation Project has played a major role in promoting diversification of economic activities in the area. The availability of irrigation water has motivated the residents to embrace farming. With reliable and stable agricultural production, there has been development and growth impact on the economy directly benefiting over 2000 persons," said Mbijiwe.

Kulmi Wario, who was initially a pastoralist, is now a farmer at Rapsu Irrigation Project. She currently cultivates maize, kales and onions. She now sells farm produce and she’s been able to provide basic needs for her family and educate her children.

Adbulama, a pawpaw farmer, harvests up to 1.7 tonnes of the SP pawpaw variety.

He sells his farm produce to Meru Greens Horticulture Limited and that way he is able to afford a decent livelihood for his family.

Rapsu Irrigation Project has an estimated average gross margin of Sh125,000 per acre per year. NIA said the project is contributing to the food and nutrition security Agenda of the Big Four.