• Under the contract, farmers will be selling a kilo of cotton to Makueni Ginneries at Sh54.
• Hola Irrigation scheme was in production since 1953 but collapsed in 1989 when the river changed course leaving the pumping station without water.
After decades of relying on food aid from the government, Hola Irrigation Scheme farmers in Tana River have a reason to smile.
The more than 150 farmers have been contracted by Makueni Ginnery to produce cotton for this cropping season, according to James Kirimi, National Irrigation Authority -Hola Scheme manager.
“In the contract, farmers will be selling a kilogramme of cotton to Makueni Ginnery at Sh54,” he said during a recent media tour of the scheme.
The scheme was productive from 1953 to 1989 when the river changed course leaving the pumping station dry.
Farmer Adhan Umuru said some of his colleagues abandoned the scheme and those who remained survived on food relief from the government until 2009 when the government revived the scheme under the Economic Stimulus Programme.
“Farmers are now able to grow a variety of crops including rice, seed maize and horticulture,” Umuru said.
Kirimi said Hola and Bura irrigation schemes were initially meant for cotton production, producing 40 per cent of all the country's cotton needs.
“But due to the liberalisation of the global market (country’s cotton was marketed by Cotton Limited Produce Board) production went down. In addition, when the scheme went under, it could not provide reliable irrigation water for production,” he said.
There have been efforts to normalise cotton production since 2009 with partners like the Fibre Crops Directorate of the Agriculture and Food Authority.
Kirimi said NIB is intends to initially put 500 acres under cotton with a target of 2,000 acres under improved marketing structures such as contact farming.
Farmers are growing hybrid cotton this season but they stand to benefit more with the recent launch of Bt cotton.
Currently, Kenya produces 21,000 bales annually against a demand of 140,000 bales, according to the Fibre Crops Directorate.
Kenya has the potential to export finished cotton goods worth Sh9 billion.
Hola Irrigation scheme has a gazetted area of 12,000 acres, 5,000 of them installed with irrigation infrastructure. Some 3,500 acres are under alternate crop production.
Rice is grown on 300 acres, contract cotton farming 500 acres, maize 1,000 acres, green grams 300 acres and horticulture - mainly water melon 200 acres.
“In this second season, the area under crop production at the irrigation scheme is 2,500 acres. The scheme has around 1,400 households of an average of five people each all depended on the irrigation scheme,” Kirimi said.