Busia irrigation project set to end floods, boost farming

The floods mainly occasioned by River Nzoia whenever it breaks its banks, surface runoff and sometimes backflow from Lake Victoria has always seen many homes submerged, roads rendered impassable and bridges washed away.

To Odongo, the floods have always destroyed their agricultural land, and crops including rice, maize and Beans are damaged increasing their food scarcity woes.

"Rice within Bunyala irrigation scheme, maize and even beans and among other cash crops are completely damaged whenever floods wreak havoc and we are left struggling to put food on the table after flooding is over and normalcy has returned," said Odongo

He added: "Every year, we are forced to stay in the camps for at least four months because our homes are submerged."

But there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel after the Kenyan government in partnership with the World Bank (WB) came up with a long-lasting solution to end the perennial flooding and enhance food production in the area.

Like other residents, Odongo is confident the multi-billion Lower Nzoia Irrigation and Flood Mitigation Project seeking to end perennial floods and enhance food security in Busia and Siaya counties could be a game changer.

"With flash floods having been controlled, we shall be able to grow rice and maize in the scheme and in turn produce enough food to feed the country," he said.

Construction Works of the Lower Nzoia Irrigation Project Phase (I) -canal irrigation scheme at a cost of Sh3.9 billion is in its final stages with President William Ruto expected to launch it officially in early September this year.

"The project will benefit at least 12,600 farmers occupying 10,000 acres in Busia and Siaya counties respectively," said Ephantus Kimotho, the Irrigation Principal Secretary (PS).

Busia has 4,200 farmers occupying 3,730 acres while Siaya County has 8,400 farmers occupying at least 6,270 acres.

So far, the state has managed to compensate all families that were moved to pave the way for the construction of the project have all been compensated.

"Under the project, high-value crops such as fruits and vegetables will be cultivated on a 5,000-acre parcel whereas rice in rotation with soybeans, maize, and other legumes will take the remaining 5,000 acres according to Kimotho when he toured the project this week.

"Farmers will generate an estimated revenue of Sh4.8 billion annually. Besides, about 30,000 farmers on top of those registered will also benefit from the project through marketing, value chain addition, management of irrigation schemes, and Good Agricultural Practices (GAP)," said the PS.

Kimotho exuded confidence that the project will greatly contribute towards increasing the annual rice production as espoused in the government's Bottom Up Economic Transformation Agenda (BeTA).

Ongoing construction works of the Lower Nzoia Irrigation Project Phase (I) -canal irrigation scheme on July 27, 2023. [Nathan Ochunge, Standard]

Busia Governor Paul Otuoma said the project will be a game changer in terms of enhanced food security.

The county chief indicated that the multi-billion mega initiatives was aimed at ending the flooding menace and ensuring locals produce food on their farms.

"Water from the upper side of Busia will be harvested and preserved, then be used in food production through irrigation where we will be able to produce and distribute rice instead of receiving food donations," said Otuoma

He said Busia is endowed with fertile soils good for food production and vowed to resort to measures including technology to produce more food while utilizing harvested water that causes flooding in Budalang'i every year.

Budalang'i MP Raphael Wanjala has lauded the national government for its commitment to ensure that the project is completed for the benefit of residents.

"It is a very important project to the country because maize has become very expensive and is making us fight in the streets, therefore we need to look for an alternative source of food and in this case, the focus is on rice production," stated Wanjala.

The lawmaker has urged the government to consider putting up a rice milling plant within the Bunyala irrigation scheme to enable the farmers to process their produce and eliminate middlemen milking farmers dry.

Magombe Rice Cooperative Society chairman, Christopher Gunyi termed the project a major boost to the rice farmers who would now increase production.

"We will rally our farmers to put more effort into growing more rice in the area. We want to see to it that harvested rice double what we produce to help enhance food security and improve income from the crop," said Mr Gunyi.

The Lower Nzoia Irrigation project commenced in 2018 with a view to mitigate perennial flooding and promote food production in Budalang'i.