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FOOD SECURITY

Taita Taveta hope lies in modern irrigation, farming

Only 0.01% of county’s arable land is under food production, mostly subsistence farming

In Summary

• County water department needs to invest in stormwater management.

• Efforts should be made to increase the number of households with roof catchments to tap rainwater.

Workers at Kishushe mining in Taita Taveta county.
Workers at Kishushe mining in Taita Taveta county.
Image: FILE

Taita Taveta is a county with huge potential due to its abundant mineral deposits and parks teeming with wildlife and birdlife. However, residents are dogged by high poverty levels and illiteracy.

With huge deposits of gemstones and industrial minerals, and more than 100 licensed prospectors and miners, current estimates indicate the county is one of the largest mineral producers in Kenya. It is home to Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks—two main tourist attractions.

The population was estimated to have increased to 345,800 by 2017, according to projections by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS). Despite its abundant resources, the county is food insecure, which has fomented poverty and social inequalities.

Many parts of Taita Taveta continue to experience perennial crop failure due to drought and the inability of residents to adopt modern rain harvesting and farming methods.

Sixty-two percent of the county is occupied by the two parks and 26 percent is rangeland suitable for livestock rearing. This leaves a paltry 12 percent arable land, which is ravaged by drought aggravated by climate change.

Taita Taveta County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP) 2013 -2017 indicates the hectarage under food and cash crop production is approximately 18,125 ha (44,787 acres) and 3,296 ha (8,144) respectively. This represents a mere 0.01 percent of the county’s arable land, which is estimated at 2,909.9km2 (719,051 acres).

it is evident that the county cannot pull itself out of poverty unless deliberate efforts are made to acquaint farmers with modern water harvesting and dryland farming techniques that focus more on drought-resilient crops. In many places you will see households harvesting water for domestic use and not for farming.

The county experiences two rainy seasons but rainfall distribution is uneven, with the highlands receiving higher rainfall than the lowlands. The annual mean rainfall is 650mm.

Maize and beans are the main food crops. Estimates in the CIDP 2013-2017 indicate that annual production is 50,000 bags. However, most of what is produced for subsistence ends up in markets. Other food crops include green grams, sorghum, cowpeas, pigeon peas, cassava and sweet potatoes.

From the foregoing, it is evident that the county cannot pull itself out of poverty unless deliberate efforts are made to acquaint farmers with modern water harvesting and dryland farming techniques that focus more on drought-resilient crops. In many places you will see households harvesting water for domestic use and not for farming.

A technique such as greenhouse farming, which has been largely adopted in water-stressed areas, is still non-existent in the county, mainly due to residents’ lack of knowledge on its viability or inadequate capital.

The county has approximately 71,090 households, of which 35 percent (24,882) have access to piped water. Some 41,390 households have access to potable water. The number of households with roof catchment systems stands at 13,400.

Efforts should be made to increase the number of households with roof catchments to tap rainwater. The water quality is adjudged to be 80 percent clean. The county has six main rivers, 95 shallow wells, 92 protected springs, 25 water pans, five dams, 25 boreholes and 57 water supply schemes. These can be tapped mainly for domestic use.

For farming, small-scale irrigation is the way to go. Although the national government is in charge of large-scale irrigation projects, the county water department needs to invest in stormwater management and implementation of small irrigation projects.

Primarily, there must be a study to determine the irrigation potential of the county. More funds should be directed to the rehabilitation of existing irrigation infrastructure and developing new ones.

Unless tacit efforts are made to develop modern small-scale irrigation, and awareness campaigns on modern water harvesting and farming techniques carried out, Taita Taveta will remain food insecure and an epitome of poverty.

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