Seed maize farming, new gold for West Pokot community
Over decades, West Pokot has been associated with feuding communities, a blood-spattered tale of cattle rustling and pastoralism, drought and little to tell about food sufficiency.
Behind this generalised grim picture of a drought and conflict ravaged region, the picture in Sigor Constituency in West Pokot is a reassuring one, maize fields at the foot of Kowowu and Mtelo Hills are green maize fields.
Residents of Wei Wei location a traditionally semi-arid area grow maize on farms put under irrigation courtesy of the Wei Wei Integrated Development Project (WWIDP) established in 1986 by the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA.)
“In 1982 we introduced furrow irrigation, at the time things were dismal, there were a lot of conflicts related to scramble for little resources like cattle, water and pasture lands. Literacy levels were worrying then but the three-decade journey has been a resourceful and promising one,” said Paul Kiplimo, a project manager at KVDA.
Anne Chepkemoi a resident of Wei Wei says the irrigation scheme which received an additional KSh 1 billion in 2017 from the national government when President Uhuru Kenyatta officially launched it has saved them from drought, conflicts and poverty in equal measure.
“We planted the current crop in April which is only the first season under the long rains period. We do a second session in September after harvesting the current crop with the latter being harvested in April,” she says.
She says the second season thrives mainly on irrigation since then rains are usually minimal and this helps them get good seed maize yields from their farms that were initially abandoned dry land with only shrubs.
“We sell the seed maize that we grow here to seed processing companies that offer better prices.
She says seed maize fetches better prices, with a kilogramme retailing at KSh 45, translating to KSh 4,050 for a 90kgs bag compared to food maize that currently sells at KSh 3000 per 90kgs bag.
“I have three acres and expect to get at least 60 bags in when I harvest this month, I will use the money to pay school fees arrears and cater for other basic domestic needs,” Chepkemoi says.
William Tarus another large scale maize farmer in Wei Wei says the project has been the watershed between poverty and improved livelihoods in the area, adding that it has enabled them overcome the challenge of cattle rustling and starvation that faces other semi arid areas.
“Though the maize is not meant for food, the returns from it are what we use to purchase food and provide for other daily needs. More children are going to school, and many better houses have been built by the locals from this venture,” says Tarus.
He says yields farms depend on how well the farms are prepared and quantity and quality of inputs together with other good farming practices.
“Those who use three bags of 50kgs planting fertiliser per acre get at least 60 bags from the 2.5 acres. I cultivate 50 acres and the returns are encouraging though the cost of production is still high, the good thing is that there is a ready market unlike the maize for consumption,” he says.
Hillary Kweyu, a KSC official, says seed maize crops are closely monitored to ensure exact breeds are achieved.
“Seed maize is planted in a special way with six rows of female plants and two rows of the male plant. The tassels of the female are removed so that the intended male breed can fertilize the females. The male seed is flint and pale in colour unlike the female,” he says.
Kweyu says the Weiwei area produces at least 2.5 million tonnes of seed maize per year – 1.5 million tonnes from the long rains season and one million tonnes in the short rains season – generating at least KSh 70 million annually.
Dominic Komole who also has a maize farm says water from the irrigation scheme is also used to irrigate vegetable and fruit farms and also to fish ponds to facilitate fish farming.
Mathayo Tirono Chief Weiwei Location says the project that was first funded by the Italian government 30 years ago is the foundation of peaceful coexistence, food security, increased literacy levels and vibrant economy.
The administrator says the area has an approximate population of 18,000 people who directly and indirectly benefit from crop and fish farming.
Kiplimo the project manager says the Italian government first funded the project in 1986 with Sh750 million and put 175 acres under irrigation.
Another KSh 435 million on a grant basis was channeled to expand the project to 562 acres directly benefiting 225 households which translates to 1640 people at average of eight people per family.
Every household gets 2.5 acres with the additional KSh 1 billion pumped in last year by the government will see an additional 812 acres covered under irrigation in the third phase.
“The consistency of the project in empowering the community made it get an award for being the best in desertification control and food security from the United Nations Environmental Project in 1999,” Kiplimo said.
John Olaripo is a resident of Wei Wei who has embraced fish farming and says the new venture that is not too demanding is way better than the risks of cattle rustling.
“It needs little time and space and the output supplement our diet and income, KVDA is linking us to reliable markets besides the locals purchasing most of the fish, I made around KSh 120,000 from my pond that had 1,500 fish ” Olaripo says.
KVDA the project initiator is keeping Tilapia and cat fish in the fish ponds that are supplied with water from the Wei Wei irrigation line
“We have stocked nine fish ponds with over 20,000 fish and we are supporting farmers to construct ponds at subsidized costs. One needs at least KSh 25, 000 to establish a pond that can accommodate 2500 fish that mature after six months,” says Peter Wekesa, deputy project manager Wei Wei.