• The dam, initially owned by colonialists, was rehabilitated by the M-pesa foundation
• Six years down the line, it has enabled farmers to grow fruits, vegetables and cereals
The once notoriously dry Kinango area in Kwale county, whose residents depended on relief food for survival, is slowly becoming self-reliant thanks to Nyalani dam.
Scenes of severely malnourished children are no longer there compared to previous years, when hunger wreaked havoc.
The perennial acute water shortage has largely reduced as domestic water can easily be accessed from the dam.
Residents have at least cut the chain of dependency and ventured into various agribusinesses stimulated by agricultural activities.
The Nyalani dam in Vigurungani was renovated in 2014 by the M-pesa foundation in partnership with the county government at a cost of more than Sh230 million.
Initially, the dam belonged to British colonialists back in 1952. It was built to offer a long-lasting solution to the area’s continuous harsh climatic condition.
The dam can produce 500 litres of water, enough to feed both locals and livestock.
It was re-identified by the Red Cross, who had established a programme known as food for work, according to Nyalani farmers’ cooperative society secretary general Johns Ngano.
“The locals used to be given work and paid after a week in terms of food or money deposited in bank accounts,” he said.
It now benefits over 400 farmers. About 107 acres are under irrigation, but plans to expand the farm are underway.
Previously, residents relied on seasonal rains, which were poor, but with the dam irrigation, farming has flourished.
BETTER LIVING STANDARDS
During the first harvest of 2015-16, the farmers reaped Sh4.8 million. And the profits have grown in subsequent years.
They mainly cultivate watermelons, Okra, bringles, sukumawiki, spinach, onions, tomatoes and maize. In a quarter acre of tomato farm, a farmer can get about Sh150,000.
The farm is now serving the entire Kwale community with fresh vegetables. Ngano said the money has helped farmers grow businesswise and improve their standards of living.
This is evidenced by the number of stone buildings that are slowly replacing the mud makuti-thatched houses around Vigurungani.
Pola Mgala said farming has changed her family life completely. She built a new home and can afford a healthy diet.
“We used to feed on cassava daily but that life is long gone. I eat three meals and sleep under a warm environment,” she said.
She said before, during severe drought, they had to trek to Matuga to get food.
Mgala said she pays school fees for her children using profits generated from the farm.
The Nyalani food security programme is under the National Agricultural and Rural Inclusive Growth Project.
The project has also trained farmers on the importance of maintaining a good diet and on production of high yields.
Nyalani farmers cooperative society chairman Rashid Leli said the project has created more jobs and sustainable economic development.
He said many locals have engaged in fishing and agriculture, making them financially stable compared to the past.
Leli said agribusiness undertakings have popped up, raising the economic status of Kinango.
Gilbert Ndegwa, formerly a charcoal burner, said farming has enabled him to start and run his own businesses.
He said before, locals used to work hard only to earn little or nil. Now they have become resilient to hunger and poverty.
NOT ALL ROSY
Despite many benefits, the Nyalani project is confronted by various challenges that hinder the farm progressivity.
Ngano said flooding has been the main challenge year in and out, causing huge losses.
He said the farm is located in a low, swampy area and heavy rains worsen the situation.
Moreover, some farmers are illiterate, so comprehending some of the modern farming skills and crops is a problem, he said.
Leli said some farmers have illegally established small farms around the dam, competing with them unfairly.
He said since the Nyalani farmers pay for cooperative contributions and incur expenses for running the irrigation activities, other unregistered cultivators benefit more.
Leli said insecurity has also plagued the Nyalani project, with theft of farm produce at an alarming level.
He said there are two groups, the labourers who will prepare the land and endure all the pain, and the 'harvesters' (thieves) who come during the night to reap what they didn’t sow.
Frequent power blackouts is another major problem affecting the irrigation project, and the locals cannot afford to run diesel generators daily due to high cost.
Umazi Ndegwa said pests and diseases are slowing the production rate of food.
“We need more assistance because when the farm fails to give good yields, our efforts go to waste,” she said.
She said during each harvest, they experience a loss of up to Sh100,000 per farmer.
Poor road network and lack of market also mar agricultural businesses.
Mwaka Leli said when it rains, the road heading towards the farm is very slippery.
She said the customers who buy in bulk wait until the rain recedes due to fear of their vehicles breaking down, hence causing losses to the farmers.
She said the watermelons and onions go to waste because they cannot withstand too much water.
“Sometimes rain comes when we are almost harvesting, destroying half of our produce,” she said.
Mwaka said taking the produce out of Vigurungani is tricky.
She said the farmers don’t have enough money to cater for the transport expenses, and most vehicles reach the Kinango town.
Secondly, they are not yet known by many customers, and people opt to travel to Mombasa to get the fresh produce from the Kongowea market.
The Safaricom M-Pesa foundation has installed solar power panels worth Sh16 million to improve the Nyalani food security programme.
The solar saved the farmers from the burden of maintenance cost of the diesel-powered generator and hefty electricity bills incurred on pumping water for irrigation.
The renewable energy is supposed to end the constant power problems and provide security.
The farm has now been fenced with electric wires and spotlights strategically placed to keep off intruders and animals.
The county government provides free certified seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and modern farming skills to the local farmers to boost food security.
Governor Salim Mvurya ordered the county departments to purchase all fresh produce from Nyalani to promote the farmers and help counter losses.
The county has set the multimillion-shilling Kombani fresh produce market to tap agribusiness activities.
“We are targeting to integrate the farming and the market, whereby our local farmers not just from Nyalani but in the whole county shall take their produce and earn something,” Mvurya said.
The county allocated Sh307 million to help farmers improve farming, of which the Nyalani farmers are included.
It has also bought harvesting equipment to expedite the removal of farm produce on time.
The national government has constructed the 53km Samburu-Kinango road, following President Uhuru Kenyatta's directives when he toured the county in October. The remaining 25km is pending repair.
The road is expected to provide access to the markets and open up business activities.
Edited by T Jalio