Agriculture in the Desert: Turkana County, Kenya
A drive through Turkana County in Kenya and all I see is dry land, no sign of rain at least in the recent past, a few wells scattered here and there, and whoever gets it clean water for themselves and their cattle is the one that goes first.
We head towards Lobur, about 250 kilometers from the town of Lodwar, there we are told that agriculture in the desert exists, it is almost hard to believe because how can such a place produce food, but I was wrong.
Turkana County, in the northwestern part of Kenya, is one of the poorest counties in the country. Through exploration for crude oil and hydroelectric power, the region is beginning to emerge as a major energy producing region. But the region, like the rest of Kenya, is still largely an agrarian economy.
This is a challenge given that Turkana County, apart from being very poor, is also very hot and arid. But that doesn’t stop one man’s efforts to turn what is essentially a desert into an area that could potentially host some of Kenya’s most arable and profitable land.
Stephen Wambugu Munene is an agronomist and the current director of operations for Sillons in the Desert, an agricultural development program based on Israeli expertise in desert agriculture.
The Lobur Catholic Mission in Turkana County started the project in 2012. Munene joined in 2018 after spending several years in Israel where agriculture is a highly developed industry, despite the fact that the country’s geography is not naturally suitable for agriculture.
Turkana County has almost similar climatic conditions.
Munene and her team show the people of Turkana basic farming techniques, then equip them with a family drip system, farm tools and seeds. Upon graduation, interns then select two people to work with and train them for a year.
“We encourage both pastoralism and agriculture, because as herders they get the manure from their livestock, be it goats, cows, donkeys and from there they prepare compost for crops. said Munène.
The project has trained more than 200 farmers since 2018. Ekal Kelly Etabo, 28, has been a project trainer for more than three years. He started out as an intern.
“In this training, we just want to turn the minds of nomads, put their heads in agriculture, because agriculture can give you everything,” explains Ekal.
There are 16 trainees in each group. Alice Ayanae Lemuye, 50, mother of six is one of them.
“The lessons and skills I equipped myself from here will help me continue farming even after I leave this place and cover my children’s school fees.” said the mother of six.
Another trainee is Josphat Eyenae Etiir, 29, a father of three, who has also been at the training center for two months.
“I came here because I am unemployed, so I decided that instead of getting involved in crime, I had better learn farming skills,” he explains.
James Educan is one of the great success stories. He says the skills he learned now help him earn 70,000 Ksh ($ 700) from his farm each year.
“What encouraged me as a farmer was the market, the kind of market that I get. These crops that you see here, spinach, tomatoes, melons, these crops have a market.
Munene says it’s these success stories that help justify the project and also give it a sense of accomplishment. He is happy with the returns that his interns receive because those excellent returns translate into a good source of income.
“At first people here didn’t know about vegetables, but now you find that people are looking, they have a desire to have a vegetable in their diet, so it makes me very happy to see that.
The project now covers various locations in Turkana County, including North Turkana (Kopotea 2, Kaikor, Kibish, Maisa, Katanguun, Lobur, Todonyang, Kokusilei, Nariokotome, Kalimapus.), West Turkana (Kamdei and Kakuma), South Turkana (Kalapata , Lokichar, Loodot and Nakwamoru) and in the city of Lodwar (Nazarene, Nakwamekui and Nawetorong).
Munene says that next year he and his team will assess the overall success of Desert Furrows to determine whether the project should expand beyond Turkana County.