By Malachi Motano
The harsh economic times and the attempts to fight food insecurity are making nomadic communities in Isiolo County shift from herding to crop production.
This is thanks to Isiolo River that has provided water for irrigation.
Some young men in Samburu, Turkana, Rendile, Borana, Somali who have traditionally engaged each other in cattle-rustling wars are changing their lifestyle by trying their luck in farming by growing beans, Kales (Sukuma wiki) among other subsistence crops not only for consumption in their homes, but also sell the extra in Isiolo town on large scale.
Augustine Moto is the voice of young farmers in Kitile village who have been farming for the four years (since February 2010) in Samburu.
“My dad had 80 cows, 40 goats and five donkeys. Long drought epidemics in this area claimed more than three- quarters of his herds. Today we have only 25 animals left in total, out of the 125 we had in 2009. It is from these experiences that together with some few friends mobilized young men and women to take an immediate action that would reverse the trend,” Moto says.
Although the decision sounded brilliant implementing it remained so challenging. Kitile village is 5km from Isiolo River. The young farmers needed to practice irrigation but because of lack of proper equipment, they had to do it manually. Young women would go to fetch water from the river in large buckets for irrigation as their men prepare the land for crops.
“We decided to start growing food crops though it was not easy. The river is far away from where we live. We don’t have long pipes that would bring water from the river. There is inadequate rainfall in this area and life has to continue. What else could we do? The only option we had (at the beginning) was to be literally fetching water from the river to our farms. We were a small group- only, about 20 ladies and gentlemen.”
For the first time in June 2010 Samburu residents ate their own agricultural produce and sent some for sale in the open air markets in Isiolo. The small group harvested large tones of kales, tomatoes and spinach from ten farms approximately two acres each.
“We managed to get a plenty of harvest. I imagine for the first time my mum never bought sukuma wiki. The produce was too much for home consumption and one of us came with a suggestion that we immediately adopted and today is like our main target. The suggestion was if we can try selling our produce. After making a good sale, we decided that we will not only be consuming the vegetables at home, but we will also take them to Isiolo Market and in fact today we are farming for business.”
Zubaida Ahmana is a vegetable vendor in Isiolo town.
It is until this time when the group of twenty (without a formal name) made big harvest for both home consumption and sell in the markets that more people from different villages came in for Agriculture.
“Nowadays I only use sh300 to make a purchase from our local farmers as opposed to before that I had to use at least sh2,000 because I had to go myself or send somebody because the once that are brought here are even more expensive.”
Today, about 40 percent of vegetables consumed in Isiolo town according Adan Ali Wako the chairman of open air markets in the County, are locally produced and is wishing that farmers learnt the importance of the rive much early. The massive anger could be on roads to history books.
“I am very happy as the chairman, because my people can today produce their own food. When you visit people selling vegetables in the streets of Isiolo town, most of them will tell you that they have not made their purchase from Meru farmers.”
“Isiolo River has been here for very long, but people had not exploited it well. Today, farms are all over the river. We even allowed them to move closer to the river (riverbanks) and do their crop production,” he adds.