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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Daily Nation: Farming In Garissa County

A thriving sweet melon farm in Garissa. With proper planning and investment, the county can grow enough food for the people of  the starving north east region of the country. Photo/JENNIFER MUIRURI
  investment, the county can grow enough food for the people of the starving north east region of the country. Photo/JENNIFER MUIRURI 
Posted  Wednesday, August 31  2011 at  18:00
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Farming in the desert could turn Garissa into the bread basket of the starving North East.
Already, waters from River Tana are transforming the region into a valley of opportunities where individuals and groups are engaged in mixed farming.
The valley stretches from Fafi constituency and covers all of Dujis and parts of Lagdera.
And there you can find the Somalis, a pastoralist people who know little of farming, weeding maize plantations along the river banks.
A visit to the Tana valley reveals there is big money for group farmers and companies.
A small holding of two acres could give its owner as much as Sh480,000 a year – meaning Sh40,000 a month, far more than a new graduate employee could expect to earn.
Better still, an individual large scale farmer in the valley could hope to earn between Sh3 million and Sh10 million a year. All are dependent on irrigation water from the Tana River.
There is a growing feeling in Garissa that the future for the pastoralist Somalis is to encourage them to embrace commercial and subsistence farming, while not losing their identity as cattle keepers.
Huge irrigation potential
The Tana is both an asset and liability in Garissa and Tana River counties, which share its banks.
It irrigates the land... but during heavy rains the floods wreak havoc and the crocodiles that infest its waters kill people and animals too.
The potential for irrigation remains huge. The little of the waters diverted upstream has turned the desert into a green valley in the same way the Nile has worked its miracle of inundation for Egypt for centuries.
“If I were the Minister of Agriculture, I would set aside a big swathe of land in North Eastern and declare it a national farm to produce food for the entire country and the perennially starving pastoralists in the region,” said Mr Michael Ogola, the manager at Maendeleo Farm in Garissa.
And Amina Aden, a Somali woman who is a farm hand added: “I want to urge our Somali people to learn how to work on farms rather than concentrating on tending cattle, which are frequently wiped out by drought.”
Amina and other Somali women are among many who have learnt farming skills and now appreciate diversification as a way of alleviating hunger.
There are big farms and smallholding irrigation units owned by group farmers operating as Saccos.
Mr Ogola manages Maendeleo Farm, one of the big time enterprises owned by Gen (Rtd) Mahmud Mohamed along the banks of the Tana.
For 27 years his 146 acres has been focused on intensive mixed farming irrigated by water from the Tana.
There are 31 group farms on the northern banks as well as 42 others in the southern part of the river, owned by individuals.
Nasra, with 22 members, is a 46-acre group farm where each irrigates his or her area producing mangoes, bananas and tomatoes among other produce.
Maendeleo as a big farm, is a manifestation of what people along big rivers can do with what is perceived to be useless land.
There, 146 acres of dry land beneath a scorching sun has been coaxed into producing a fortune.
Electricity pumps water into canals that irrigate mangoes, bananas, sweet melons, paw paws, oranges and other citrus fruits.
Even Bombay cotton trees produce soft fibres for making pillows while tomatoes and maize grows and dairy cows produce milk.
“When you go into farming, you must be commercially viable or you perish,” said Mr Ogola.
From Maendeleo, mangoes which form the bulk of the produce, are exported to the Middle East, Germany and Britain.
Kenyan juice processors from Thika and Mombasa also compete for the crop.
“We cut out middle men because they fight to bring down the prices and because ours is big farming they shy away and leave us with our traditional exporters,” Mr Ogola said.
The farms in the Tana valley also feed Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru supermarkets with fruit.
“We must also keep our workers happy,” explained Mr Kusow Diis, another manager. And they do so by paying them well, paying them promptly and by giving other fringe benefits.
‘I will never go away’

For instance, they cut grass and sell it to animal owners during times of drought, besides their salaries.
“I will never go away from here, I get a salary and I get grass to sell for more money,” commented Amina.
At Nasra, Mr Ismail Ali Hussein farms only one-and-half acres, producing mangoes, lemons, bananas and guavas.
From this, he is able to earn enough to sustain his family.
He said that, if done well, a farmer can earn between Sh380,000 and Sh400,000 from a small holding.
The 22 members on the Nasra group farm have also diversified in the same individual big farmers have done.
The challenges for the new county will be to enact effective statutes that will define the Tana valley.
Then, the same laws will be required to strike a balance between the livestock and agricultural economies.
The few that see a future in agriculture are ahead of a community that still regards cattle, goats, and camels as the major source of wealth.

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