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Sh5b irrigation project brings hope to once hardship hamlet

Project manager Naslene Ogwe inspects progress at Lower Kuja Scheme on June 15, 2020. [Caleb Kingwara, Standard]

From whichever direction you approach it, the rice fields are spread as far as the eye can see.

Just five years ago, this was just a grazing field where thousands of livestock browsed and reptiles crawled.

Today, the Lower Kuja Irrigation project in Nyatike, Migori Country, is changing lives and turning the once sleepy Sagama market into a bubbling shopping centre.

The Sh5.4 billion national government project commissioned by ODM leader Raila Odinga in May last year, is slowly changing the area once classified as a hardship hamlet with poor roads and spiraling poverty index and high disease burden.

Farmers from as far as Nyamira, Kisii, Kisumu and Transmara, are leasing paddy fields from the villagers to grow the crop.

With daily earnings of between Sh300 and Sh450, local youth and women are earning livelihoods from planting and weeding the paddy fields.

While commissioning the project in May last year, Odinga praised it as a major economic boost to the people of Migori County.

The project boasts of some 19,000 acres in North Kadem. Out of this, 2,500 acres have been prepared for irrigation, although only 2,000 acres is under paddy.

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Farmers and local leaders, including area MP Tom Odege, speak fondly of the project, saying it was expected to open up the economic prospects of the area.

Farmers like Meshack Machogu, who have leased farms, pay up to Sh8,000 per acre per season, up from Sh4,500, due to the high demand.

The profits are good. From one acre of land, Machogu says he produces between 36 to 40 bags of rice. He sells a 90 kg of bag at Sh3,400.

“It is a good project. We get profits but sometimes we suffer loses whenever floods destroy the crop,” says another farmer Jacinta Okowa.

Project manager Naslene Ogwe says farmers have a ready market for their produce.

“We have West Kenya Rice Mills, the Lake Basin Development Authority rice mill and small private mills at the local shopping centre. We also have brokers who buy from the farmers and sell to the outside market,” Ogwe says.

Okowa, however, says the Covid-19 pandemic  has interfered  with the market and pricing as most buyers, especially from Uganda, no-longer visit  the area. But beneath the bright prospects lie other serious challenges threatening to slow down the implementation of the project.

Frequent flooding

Top in the list of  the challenges, besides frequent flooding caused by River Kuja, is the thorny issue of land compensation for some of the families displaced from the site.

Although Ogwe says 80 per cent of the villagers had been compensated, the remaining 20 per cent have turned the heat on the government, with some seeking legal redress to press for compensation.

But Ogwe said plans to compensate those moved from the land had been halted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On February 3, 2020, Ogwe wrote to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Physical Planning, notifying it of challenges they were encountering on the project and requested surveying and evaluation of the land.

In an interview yesterday, Ogwe blamed delay in compensating the remaining families on land-ownership wrangles.

Mr Odege says the leadership in Nyatike supports the project and urged the national government to hasten the compensation process.

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