Turkana’s forgotten lot now food producers

 Turkana’s forgotten lot now food producers

source: standardmedia.co.ke/farm Kenya

When you mention the word Turkana, the region often billed as a perennially food deficient, many a times the thought that comes to mind is sad-looking families in desperate need of food aid. There is also that emaciated child with mucus dripping from the nose. Erase that. Locals in one village are so fed up with that tired narrative of misery, shame and hunger they are determined to rewrite their story into one of hope and abundance. The Smart Harvest visited such a people. The locals are determined to demystify the narrative that their land is unsuitable for arable farming

At Natirae in Turkwel Ward, about 40 kilometres East of Lodwar town in Turkana County sits a 72-acre Natiral Farm that is turning around food production in the region.The green farm that produces sorghum and maize in large scale and nutritious traditional vegetables using irrigation water from Turkwel river, is surrounded by huge tracks of fallow land dotted with thorny bushes. 

Divided into portions, Natiral Farm serves residents of Natirae, who for long, were known as pastoralists and many atimes beneficiaries of food aid. Every season, they lost their herds of cattle and goats due to hunger and were frequent dependants of relief food from government and humanitarian agencies. But that is changing slowly by slowly. 

Rivers of hope

In 2019, the residents’ dream to be food secure started to be a reality after Panafricare Kenya, an non-profit organisation through Bayer Fund launched a programme that seeks to help more than 30 families embrace crop farming to boost their families’ nutrition and food security. To roll out the project, the organisation, identified the first cohort of beneficiaries, gave them farming equipment and helped them clear the bush and prepare land. It also helped them to dig huge water canals from River Trowel to the farm and provided certified maize, sorghum and vegetables seeds for a start. 

As part of the project, extension officers trained the farmers on basic crop production skills like planting, managing seed beds and irrigation. Hungry to be independent and food secure, the locals in Natirae village embraced the idea and ran with it.

One such farmer is Kuya Kyong’a Eseye, 41, who has tasted the pain of hunger. Previously he had hundreds of goats and cattle but many died due to hunger and famine. He is only left with 25 goats, which are on the verge of dying due to lack of feeds as current drought persists. Having seen how pastoralism was unsustainable, Eseye embraced the idea to be a crop farmer. He is determined to be food secure because he has to fend for his two wives, eight children and elderly parents. He also has to take care of six children belonging to his mentally ill sister.

“We are not traditionally crop farmers but for the sake of feeding our families we were ready to try anything. I have a large family to care for and sometimes, we would go hungry for days waiting for relief food. Since I started crop farming, I am able to provide at least a meal every day for my family,” he says.

Another beneficiary of the project is Alice Amana, 20, a mother of four.  Amana has three portions of land where she produces sorghum, maize beans managu and cow peas.

“This farm has helped me provide food for my children. Before we ventured into farming, we lost loved ones and livestock to drought. Our children are healthy now because they have food,” she says.

Amana and other farmers are currently harvesting sorghum that will enable them have food during throughout the dry season. The sorghum stems are also used as livestock feeds. Another beneficiary of the project, Peter Ekutan, 68, says though crop farming is not being part of their lifestyle, it has had a positive impact on the community. He says crop farming has helped him put food on the table.

“My children go to school every day on a full stomach and they don’t sleep hungry like in the past. I also sell surplus produce to meet my family’s financial needs,” Ekutan says.

A kilo of sorghum at the nearby shopping Centre goes for Sh200 and even higher in Lodwar Town.

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