The Turkana community is group of people inhabiting northwest regions of Kenya. These people are mostly nomadic pastoralists who depend on cattle keeping as their only economic activity. As such, they remain vulnerable given their overdependence on cattle under adverse Arid and Semi-arid climatic conditions which does not allow growth of pasture. Once bitten, twice shy – so they say but for the Turkanas the biting by drought has been done too many times. This community has suffered greatly under the pangs of drought leading to loss of lives of both humans and animals. This has conscripted the community members to adopt alternative economic activities or risk starving to death. That alternative is agriculture.

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Pastoralists look after their cattle

Till recently, this region was crippled by insecurity emanating from cattle rustling cases. Now, death of cattle rustling and the return of peace in the region has seen more than 100,000 residents embrace irrigation farming. The interest in furrow and drip irrigation by the inhabitants has followed the revival of 12 schemes, including Elliea, by the government and aid agencies. This poses a great step towards reducing food insecurity in this region. Also, these projects will motivate farmers to venture into horticultural and invest in drought resistant crops.

The bumper harvest realized at Lotubae irrigation scheme last season has served to motivate most families in the area to invest in agriculture. The government of Kenya seeks to increase the area under irrigation in Elliea from 400 to 800 acres. This scheme produced 8,000 and 2,000 bags of maize and sorghum respectively last season. For Lotubae irrigation scheme it is set to be expanded from 750 to 1,200 acres while Morrulem will beexpanded from 1,500 to 2,000 acres.

The National Irrigation Board has launched feasibility studies on irrigation schemes in Turkana South and East Districts in the region to rehabilitate stalled irrigation schemes and initiate new ones. The government allocated approximately Sh60 million for irrigation projects in Turkana County. Among those to benefit from the funds is Katilu irrigation scheme that has been allocated Sh45 million to put 650 hectares of land under irrigation.

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One of the farming projects being done under irrigation

Another Sh20 million has been set aside for proposed Lotubae irrigation scheme in Turkana East and Sh38 million for Nakwomoru scheme on the downstream of Turkwell gorge. The government with support of Italy has developed Wei Wei irrigation scheme in West Pokot with more than 275 hectares set for irrigation .This programme is expected to benefit over 7,000 people in an area that has experienced perpetual food shortage. The plan is to plant over 100 acres of land with drought resistant crops aimed at enabling the community members to attain food sufficiency.

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A Turkana woman looks after her crops

Another tremendous activity taking place is that most families living along Rivers Kerio and Turkwell are producing vegetables, bananas and drought resistant crops like sorghum and millet. This programme supported by the World Food Program (WFP) targets placing more than 75,000 acres of land under agriculture. According to The National Irrigation Board (NIB), Kenya has more than 600,000 hectares suitable for irrigation but only a quarter of them have been exploited. What would happen if more youths were encouraged to pick up farming in these regions alongside cattle keeping? There would no more starvation caused deaths.

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