TANA RIVER, Kenya, Aug 18 – Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett on Monday described Kenya as, “reasonably,” food secure but far from food sufficient; being forced to import foodstuff given the dissonance between food production and consumption.
In an effort to remedy which, the Galana Kulalu Food Security Project was birthed by the Jubilee Administration, initially it was reported, to put 1 million acres under irrigation with the assistance of the Israelis.
But the project waters were not without turbulence and the ship is running behind schedule.
At Monday’s State House Summit on Agriculture, Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa sought to correct the ‘mistaken’ impression that the 1 million acres the Jubilee Administration pledged to put under ‘modern’ irrigation by 2017 was restricted to Galana explaining that it is a nationwide pursuit.
He explained that the plan for Galana was to get a 10,000 acre model farm up and running and scale up a successful model to 400,000 acres – a number of maize varieties having been tested for their suitability.
He also explained that the project budget had been slashed by half to about Sh7 billion to ensure Kenyans, “get value for money.”
It’s this point that Irrigation Principal Secretary Patrick Nduati Mwangi sought to underscore on a visit to the project thereafter.
“We import food products of over a hundred billion, for example in 2012. This what you’re seeing here (Galana) has not consumed and will not consume beyond Sh7 and 10 billion shillings to produce maize for 10,000 acres. So we need to keep pushing this type of irrigated farming to the rest of the country to make sure that Kenya becomes food secure.”
A position backed by National Irrigation Board General Manager Gitonga Mugambi who said great progress has been made despite the setbacks the Galana project has faced and despite the 1 million acres targeted for irrigation by the Jubilee Administration being a tall order.
“Looking from where we’re coming from, the biggest project we have of this nature is in Mwea. Mwea is 25,000 acres. It took over 35 years to do Mwea to where it is today. Talking about 10,000 acres being implemented in a period of three years maximium, that is a major crash programme.”
That being said, the Galana project still faces a number of hurdles including the need for a mill and more surprisingly a dispensary given a rise in the number of known HIV cases among the locals engaged in the project from one in December to 17 in June and three Hepatitis C deaths.
The first of which Mugambi said, they are seeking to resolve through Public-Private Partnership. “What we intend to do is now to come in with the private sector (to) take-over this production. We provide the environment and infrastructure so now it can move to the next stage.”
He expressed confidence that said handover would not be a long time in coming; assuring that the March 2017 deadline for the operationalisation of the 10,000 acre model farm would indeed be met given the 2,500 already planted promising a harvest of up to 40 bags of maize an acre.
“This will be the third harvest. But for all intents and purposes the second harvest did not work well due to the El Niño effects.” Mwangi said.
Given the backlash it attracted given the money invested in the project, he did however add in defence: “In terms of model farming, most of the experimentation is done in situ in the field and during production. It’s only after the model farm is completed that we can say the experimentation will be complete.”
Plans for the next phase of the project – construction of a dam — Mwangi said, are already underway given the Galana River, “can command,” 20,000 acres with its normal flow but the plan is to place 400,000 of the 1.7 million acre ranch under irrigation.