• Pastoralists who lost their herds to drought and have never recovered are now trying their hand in farming.
• Agriculture and livestock executive Issa Yarrow said Garissa has debunked the myth and perception of the county being a vast dry land profiled by colonialists and successive regimes as agriculturally unproductive.
When Moroccan Ambassador El Mokhtar Ghambou made his maiden visit to Garissa county recently, he was surprised that River Tana flows right through the middle of the town. According to him ‘it was not being put into good use’.
Unknown to him was that pastoralists in the area are venturing into crop farming as an alternative source of livelihood to escape the frequent, prolonged and devastating effects of drought. They use the water from the river to irrigate their crops.
Ghambou later toured some farms in Sankuri and Iftin wards and had to ‘retract’ his statement after witnessing crop farming. He was taken on tour by the Deputy Governor Abdi Dagane.
“I must admit that the perception I had of this part of the country has changed. I have been impressed by what I have seen in the farms. Real farming is taking place, contrary to what I hear of this place that it is dry and people only rely on livestock farming to sustain themselves,” he said.
“For a first timer in Garissa, one will not notice that the vast county has acres of land that have been put on irrigation with fruits and vegetables being produced.”
Ghambou said River Tana, which flows for more than 400 kilometres through Garissa into the Indian Ocean, is key to food security because crops from the farms can feed residents and the surplus is sold locally and internationally.
He said like Garissa, Morocco is semi-arid but it is water self-sufficient and the county could learn from its water management practices.
Crops grown in Garissa include pawpaw, mangoes and watermelons. They are bought by traders from Nairobi and Mombasa.
Interviews with some farmers paint a picture of people determined to succeed in irrigation after years of pastoralism.
Abdi Mohamed, the chairman of Wadhajir farm in Sankuri, said devolving agriculture was the best thing ever done since it has made it much easier for the counties to give the sector the seriousness it deserves.
“Initially when agriculture was still under the national government, little or nothing was done to transform the sector because people thought we cannot farm. But with devolution in place, we have started seeing seriousness with support coming our way in the form of finances and farming equipment,” he said.
Mohamed said they not only have enough food to feed their families, but also surplus to sell.
“I want to urge my fellow pastoralists to embrace farming as it is the only way to end the woes facing us, especially during the dry spell."
Fauzia Abdirahman from Biliqo Farm said they are enjoying the benefits of crop farming.
“With the necessary support from the county and national governments and the leaders in general, we can be the county’s grain basket,” she said.
Fauzia said farming is the only way to beat the devastating effects of drought. "At Biliqo, we have food throughout the year and money in our pockets. We no longer depend on husbands to be the sole breadwinners,” she said.
Ibrahim Jelle, who practices both livestock and subsistence farming in Korakora, Iftin ward, said crops give him better returns. He started farming two years ago.
“I was encouraged to try farming by my younger brother who was really making good money through the sale of bananas from his three-acre piece of farm. This was after I lost hundreds of goats and sheep to drought. Since then, I have never regretted. Farming pays,” he said.
Agriculture and livestock executive Issa Yarrow said Garissa has debunked the myth and perception of the county being a vast, dry land as profiled by colonialists and successive regimes as agriculturally unproductive.
“We have revived all the irrigation schemes in the riverine areas, done massive bush clearing and brought more areas under irrigation, constructed flood control structures for protection of irrigation farmlands from floodwaters among other interventions,” he said in an interview.
The county has 800 farmers in different groups.
He said the county is planning to come up with an annual award for the best farmer in recognition of the best cultivation methods. This, he said, will encourage more people in the area to become farmers.
The chairman of farmers’ federation, Dubat Amey, said the future looks bright as far as crop farming is concerned.
Dubat said agriculture will create wealth and job opportunities for the youth.
“As farmers, we will fully support the county for supporting our farmers. We believe we can fully maximise its potential by putting thousands of acres of land, especially along the river, into farming, then this will not only create wealth for our people but also job opportunities for our youth."
Dubat, also the chairman of the Livestock Marketing Council, said the ever-changing climatic patterns that result in frequent drought have rendered many pastoralists destitute.
“Pastoralism as a lifestyle was sustainable before, but now unless heavy investment is made like coming up with hay production and feed programme, stocking and restocking, then we will have problems."
Dubat said the increasing number of people and diminishing grazing land should be a concern to everybody.
Creating of settlements haphazardly means that the grazing land will be consumed.
Speaking in Lodwar recently, Governor Ali Korane challenged the pastoralists communities to start ‘thinking outside the box’ if they have to turn around their sources of livelihoods.
Korane said ‘you don’t expect to do things the same way, year after year and expect positive results’.