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Bandits attack, kill Kerio Valley’s multi-million fruit farming mentor

RIFT VALLEY
By Stephen Rutto | October 18th 2021

Agricultural officer Benjamin Sum (left) was shot dead by bandits in Kerio Valley. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

After more than 20 years of turning around agriculture in the banditry-hit Kerio Valley, Benjamin Sum’s life was devastatingly ended by gunmen.

The 55-year-old agricultural extension officer was shot dead in Kapkobil along Tot-Chesongoch road, Elgeyo Marakwet County on Friday, by bandits suspected to be from a neighbouring county.

Locals in the troubled Kerio Valley describe Mr Sum as the father of fruit farming locally, despite the area being rocked by cattle rustling for five decades.

He is credited for the introduction of multi-million mango farming in Kerio Valley.

Six years ago Sum introduced watermelon farming, which is now flourishing and is a source of income for many families locally.

Benjamin Sum introduced watermelon farming. [Stephen Rutto, Standard]

According to locals, a group of attackers suspected to be from Tiaty in Baringo County, armed with AK 47 rifles, raided Kapkobil village but were repulsed by locals.

“On their way back after they were repulsed, the attackers shot at the agricultural officer, who was riding a motorcycle towards Chesoi trading centre, where he lives,” a resident and mango farmer Alex Komen told The Standard.

In Chesoi, where he has lived for 30 years, the senior agricultural officer was also a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) preacher.

Agriculture Chief Officer Timothy Kiptum said Sum was an accomplished agriculturalist, who never sought transfer out of Kerio Valley despite the banditry-related bloodletting.

Mr Kiptum said Sum helped the county in striking partnerships with organisations such as Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO) and World Vision, which have been supporting farmers.

“To us, Sum was the father of fruit farming in Kerio Valley. Apart from mangoes, he introduced watermelon and tomato farming. He loved arid agriculture. He extended his services to Tiaty in Baringo County where he introduced chicken farming to communities that only relied on cattle and goats,” Kiptum said.

He said he helped establish security farms, a model where sites for crops such as vegetables and beans are grown in fenced areas.

Watermelon farm in Kerio Valley. [Kevin Tunoi, Standard]

Elgeyo Marakwet Deputy Governor Wisely Rotich described the late Sum’s killers as heartless.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen said: “He never owned livestock and other properties in the Kerio Valley, but only worked to help local farmers diversify. It is worrying that he was targeted.”  

While confirming his death on Friday, Elgeyo Marakwet Police Commander Patrick Lumumba said armed bandits have now resorted to indiscriminate killings after locals and the police worked jointly in the fight against livestock theft.

“It has reached a point where insecurity has become an issue and the use of force is now an option,” Lumumba said.

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