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Kenyan community turns to irrigation

HOMA HILLS, Kenya, Oct 12 – The changing and unpredictable weather conditions have been blamed on almost everything and anything negative that befalls us. From the biting food crisis to the ongoing water and electricity shortage, climate change bears all the curses.

An estimated three million people in Kenya are faced with starvation; and again climate change has been blamed for this as trucks loaded with relief food become a common feature in the country.

So when I found a very green farm at the heart of Homa Hills, a very dry part of Western Kenya I was intrigued.  The farm is characterised by green vegetables, cabbages, onions, tomatoes and many other crops.

“Previously, rainfall was very reliable and we could predict it.  But it seems that’s no longer the case. The climate has changed and we can no longer predict weather patterns with accuracy. So we were trying to come up with measures that are not weather-dependant when we started this project,” explains Godfrey Olewe, Project Coordinator Homa Hills Community Development Organisation.

“We are using drip irrigation system to farm so we are not climate dependent,” Mr Olewe says.

He says the organisation was started in 1980 to help orphaned children and widows where they have various programmes that include agriculture and HIV/AIDS.

Benta Anyango is a widow. She is among the pioneer members of the organisation.

“I have been here since 1980 when my husband died. I have benefited from this farm in terms of food and financial support,” Ms Anyango says.

When her husband died, the responsibility of feeding and educating their children was left to her.  With no job or any formal qualifications, she had to look for manual jobs to take care of her new responsibilities.

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“All my earnings come from the services I offer at this drip unit,” Ms Anyago says of her casual job at the Homa Hills Community Development Organisation.

Mr Olewe, the Project Coordinator explains that they are able to practice drip irrigation on the seven acre piece of land using water from Lake Victoria. Drip irrigation is seen as the most efficient method of irrigation. It applies water directly where it is needed and minimises the use.

“We have a big water mast, we tap water from it into our tank and then supply it to our farms for our production,” he says.

But there is the Nile Water Agreement of 1929 which was signed by Britain on behalf of its East African colonies and forbids any projects that could threaten the volume of water reaching Egypt.

The agreement also gave Cairo the right to inspect the entire length of the Nile. But there has been a huge row on this agreement with the sub-Saharan countries feeling they have been denied use of the waters.

“We are able to use water from the Lake because this is a small project and it is negligible. I think they would raise eyebrows if it was a huge project but right now I don’t think they are even feeling the effect of the water we are taking from the lake,” Mr Olewe says.

The project is also being replicated in schools. Mr Olewe says this is to introduce commercial agriculture to primary school children so that when they grow older they will not only opt for subsistence farming but commercial farming as well.

“We want to use agriculture and micro enterprises as sustainability measures because projects come and go. When the project moves from this area what will the people remain with?” he posed.

“So when we introduce micro finance and micro enterprises in the form of agriculture, then the community can still sustain itself after that,” he says.

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Beatrice Akinyi is another beneficiary of the programme.

“I am able to get food here at a lower price and also learn the skills to use on my farm even under dry conditions,” she says.

Mr Olewe says when the project started; it used contract marketing where they identified a market before producing so that they would know what was needed and the quantity.

“But we realised that we cannot only provide outsiders when the people in the community have nothing to eat,” he says.

According to the Farm Supervisor James Ogeta, most of the casual workers there are women.

“Men are more engaged in fishing. Again women here are more of breadwinners than our men and because they are the ones who have main obligation of raising their families and sustaining them.  That is why we have more women doing this to raise an income for their families,” Mr Ogeta says.

“We have realised that women do their work perfectly with a lot of passion, dedication and in good timing unlike the men who when they show up they are fast and end up doing so erroneous work,” he adds.


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