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Friday, November 19, 2010

Reaping fruits of Prosperity from land riven with aridity

This is one of those feel good stories that restores your hope in a Garissa that will one day be the bread basket of Kenya. Tana River Drought Recovery Project is implemented by the Kenya Red Cross Society through support from the Japanese Government.

The Standard | Online Edition :: Reaping fruits of prosperity from land riven with aridity

Reaping fruits of prosperity from land riven with aridity

Published on 17/11/2010
The gaunt desert bushes flanking the river seemed to tremble as the farmer’s hoe struck the rich earth beneath.
In the background, the sound of the two-piston engine harmonised with the singing of Dado Lalafa, carrying across the fields along the crocodile-infested Tana River.
Along the smooth flowing river are 20 irrigation water pumps, draining thousands of litres of the rich brown water on thousands of hectares of owned by about 100 farming groups.
Dado is one of the 5,000 farmers from Tana River and Garissa Districts who have embraced irrigation, thanks to an initiative by Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS) dubbed, Tana River Drought Recovery Project.
Two years ago, the communities were mostly pastoralist, relying on relief food from the Government and international organisations.
KRCS is one of the organisations that have been distributing food to communities in Madogo, Bura and Bangale. But they chose to move in a different direction by moving away from food distribution to empowering local communities fend for themselves.
Untapped potential

The Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Abbas Gullet (right) and Dujis MP Aden Duale savour the fruits of the labours of Tana River farmers
And the biggest resource the locals is the Tana River which, like the mighty River Nile, is said to have the untapped potential of feeding more than half of Kenyan’s population.
As it veers South, opening into a wide valley, it meanders through floodplains which, for years, have been subject to inundations. The murky sludge it carries is rich in mineral soils, and ideal for agriculture.
Garissa Agricultural District Officer Bashir Abdillahi says communities living along the Tana River, near Garissa, are able to produce over 20 metric tonnes of food crops such as vegetable and fruits all year round.
"These farmers were pastoralists but because of frequent droughts that have rendered them destitute, they are trying their hand at farming," Abdillahi says, "They used to suffer during drought and floods. Now signs are good because they can now augment livestock production with farming."
Vast amounts of banana, chilli, onions, tomatoes, oranges and mangoes are exported to Far East markets, which in turn affords the residents steady incomes to afford them school fees and other needs.
The Madogo project has 35 farm groups, which benefit around 5,000 people.
The project is in its second year following years of reliance on relief food.
Dado said when the project started making returns, the community wrote to the Government to say they no longer needed relief food, but instead needed empowering to produce their own food.
KRCS Public Relations Officer Titus Mung’ou says the organisation is shifting from assistance to facilitation.
"Our experience has shown that when you empower a community they are able to take care of themselves without relying on handouts. What we are doing along the Tana River is to restore the dignity of the community to provide for itself," Mung’ou tells The Standard.

The Tana Basin has immense irrigation potential. [PHOTOS: PETER ORENGO/ STANDARD]
Aid mentality
His sentiments are echoed by the organisation’s Secretary General Abbas Gullet, who last week presided over the donation of 20 water pumps to the community for use in irrigation.
"The mentality of aid must stop. Those who can get water pumps should utilise them and say ‘no’ to hunger. The KRCS is determined to change the mentality of handouts," said Gullet.
Dujis Constituency, one of the areas where people have befitted from KRCS pumps appears set for bigger things. Area MP Aden Duale says farmed lands have increased to 22,000 hectares.
"People always think of the arid North as only a land of banditry, drought and conflict. Today, we are exporting fruits and vegetable outside the country. If we continue empowering the people, I see the whole Tana eco-system feeding half of this country," said Duale.
He says all that is needed is for the Government to devote more funds to irrigating the fertile lands along the Tana River.
"Politics of food distribution should end if our people are given the opportunity to fend for themselves. The future of investment in the country lies in the arid areas. The land is available, and so is the technology," said Duale.

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