• Gulley erosion has claimed thousands of acres over the years.
• Without land to work, farmers are forced to cut trees and burn charcoal for a livelihood.
Farmland has been destroyed by soil erosion that washes away land and creates gullies, some as large as canyons in Kerio Valley.
The most damaged area is the border between Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties. Residents estimate a million acres has been eroded and is now useless.
Lack of farmland has impoverished thousands of residents, forcing many to cut trees and burn charcoal for a living.
Farmers are begging the government to help them reclaim the land by filling in the gullies and planting trees and bushes with long roots to hold the soil together.
The fundamental problem of erosion is attributed to encroachment, over-grazing, large-scale ongoing tree-cutting, and commercial charcoal burning that destroy the land and increase poverty.
Farmer Wilson Komen of remote Krumpopsoo village in Baringo Central said on Monday the intolerable situation makes it impossible for him to cultivate his 10 ravaged acres.
“During the rainy season, a thin crack forms and gets longer until it forms a deep and wide gully. That is how we lost our huge junk of land," Komen said on Monday.
The ravaged area stretches 200km from Kapkayo in Baringo Central and runs through Kinyach in Baringo North and Tirioko in Tiaty subcounty.
The gully belt lies on semi-arid fertile land along the banks of the seasonal River Kerio, which helps for both irrigation and rain-fed farming.
Komen attributes the erosion to loose soil, saying the entire population has lost millions of shillings' worth of land and property.
Over the years, many people have lost their lives or were injured after their houses were swept away by rains. Some tripped and fell into deep trenches.
Beatrice Kiprop said rain washes soil down gullies, making them deeper. the gullies also take water from the Tugen and Elgeyo Marakwet hills to the Kerio River.
“During the dry season, we are forced to trek 10km to fetch water from the seasonal river, which sometimes dries up completely,” Kiprop said.
The worst-affected areas are Oinobmoi, Kalawa, Kapluk, Kamrarok, Barwessa, Kinyach and Tirioko.
Mzee Symon Arap Rutto, 65, a retired public accountant, said the entire area was intact in the 1950s and agriculture was productive.
Then came the erosion.
He and a few far-sighted and successful farmers pumped millions of their savings and pension funds into land reclamation. Rutto has 15 acres.
“That was all I could afford but if I had more resources, I could cultivate the remaining huge area," he told the Star on Monday.
For the time being, he manages his Kisakian Techno farm in Kabarnet-Soi ward.
“I started by clearing the bushes and fencing off the farm then dug some check dams to control the flowing water before hiring and fuelling a dozer to flatten the hard-stones gullies” he said.
Rutto then poured tons of compost manure and planted maize, which grew well.
He built a seven million cubic metre pan dam and purchased a tractor. He uses the tractorengine to pump water from River Kerio.
The farmer bought pipes to irrigate his land where he plants onions, tomatoes, bananas, sukuma wiki and watermelon, earning high profits
In the dam he raises 3,000 fish that he harvests every three months and sells to nearby hotels.
Rutto also allocated 7.5 acres to grow hay for pasture to feed his dairy cows. They produce more than 100 litres of milk a day.
“The farmland, once restored, is fertile and productive but not everyone can afford the expense of reclaiming land as I did, unless they get help from government or partners," he said.
Rutto urged government to considering deploying agricultural extension officers to train farmers in land reclamation, preservation and on farming crops and raising livestock.
“That is the only remedy to enhance food security and improve livelihoods in Kerio Valley," he said.
Community development initiator Titus Barmasai praised Rutto, saying he is a role model of techno-farming in the North Rift.
Baringo Agriculture chief officer Wilfred Kiplagat said the county government is committed to soil conservation and sustainable farming to improve livelihoods.
“In fact, if someone hasn't seen or learnt about gullies and their economic effects, Kerio Valley is the best place to visit,” he said.
Kiplagat said the fertile soil in Kerio Valley has the potential to produce both food and commercial crops like cotton at very low production costs.
"We have partnered with the National Council of Churches Kenya through the North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb) to reclaim the eroded land in Kerio Valley," he said.
Due to limited resources, however, the reclamation can only be done in phases, he said, adding that in 10 years there should be major improvements in livelihoods.
Kiplagat also attributed intensive gully erosion to encroachment on riparian land, raising large herds of livestock and extensive tree-cutting for charcoal burning.
He said the valley is very fertile and with available resources for reclamation and irrigation, the region can produce enough food to feed the local population and beyond.
Environment office Richard Ruto said the county is educating farmers on soil conservation.
(Edited by V. Graham)