From images of a vast barren land where the only surviving vegetation is the drought-tolerant acacia trees, to colourful fresh produce that is bringing hope of a bountiful harvest; and goodbye to hunger-the new tale of Turkana thanks to drip irrigation technology from Israel.
It is a tale of what irrigation technology can do to change the fortunes, and how through drip irrigation, residents with the help of some organisations, are transforming the area.
The green field of lush vegetables ranging from watermelons, kales, spinach, sweet melons, beans, and maize to tomatoes, among others, stands like an oasis in this ‘forsaken’ part of the country.
Residents of the area are enjoying the fruits of a project dubbed, “Furrows in the Desert”, a partnership of like-minded organisations keen on changing the pastoralist culture of relying on meat, milk and blood, as the only food.
Today, most local residents are using Amiran’s Family Drip System, an all-embracing gravity-based drip irrigation system
that uses low-volume drip-irrigation technology. It drips precise quantities of water and nutrients right at the root zone. This results in a highly-effective distribution of water, and leads to improved crop quality and increased year-round yields.
“For an area with limited rainfall for crop growth, drip irrigation together with customised modern farming techniques, are the best proven ways to make Turkana, bloom,” says Mr Or Algazi, the project’s operation manager.
Introduced by Amiran Kenya, this form of irrigation is designed to allow precious and scarce water to be used at extreme limits to grow crops. Invented by Netafim Israel in the 1960s, drip irrigation has played a major role in ‘greening the desert’. The Negev Desert, which covers over 60 per cent of Israel, has shrunk in size over the past century as sand has been turned into green fields.
“Furrows in the Desert” is working with a group of more than 120 farmers between the ages of 18 and 55 years. The
farmers undergo a six-month training in agriculture and are then encouraged to begin their own farms on plots measuring 500 square metres. The trainings carried out at the project demo farm touch on land preparation, dealing with clay or sandy soil, drip irrigation installation and effective use, seeds, crop protection and nutrition.
Graduates return home and are expected to transfer the knowledge to their communities. Mr Algazi and his team then provide them with the Amiran Family Drip System, seeds and crop protection products to begin their farming.
Now on its eighth course with more than 19 trainees, graduates and their families are now including cereal and vegetables in their meals instead of the traditional meal of only livestock products.
The agro-support team brings agro-knowledge to the farm level and walks with the farmer throughout the entire season, carrying out field visits at least once every two weeks to give a helping hand.
Why has “Furrows in the Desert” project recorded immense success among the conservative pastoralists?
“In addition to improved farming methods, we have learnt through experience that you must feed the mind and the soul collectively. This means that as we train our new farmers, we forge a friendly relationship with them. Most organisations have tried setting up agro-projects in this community, but sadly, most do not do well.
“This is because organisations do not take time to understand the community; their traditions and way of living. This way, the community does not take up the ‘new’ as they deem it ‘not for them’ and that it does not intermarry well with their beliefs. Our approach has been to live with the people, understand their likes and wants and later package a model of development that suites them,” Mr Algazi says.
Now five years old, the “Furrows in the Desert” project is still in its pilot phase and recognises the great possibilities for Turkana County. The project believes that with more focused partnerships, the county can attain its full potential, turning what most consider as bare, dry land into a great agribusiness.
It is a project that can be emulated by other counties, as well as across other African nations. As the late American superstar of the 1960s Marilyn Monroe once put it clearly, “the sky is not the limit, your mind is”.