Thursday, July 11, 2013

Irrigation scheme locks horns with Kenya’s pastoralists

IRIN: The Kenyan government is planning to introduce large-scale irrigation in the country’s dry lands to improve food security and unlock agricultural potential – but critics have blasted the US$170 million scheme as unviable, and a threat to the pastoralist economy.

The government has set aside one million acres of land for irrigated agriculture over the next five years in the historically underdeveloped northeast. Half a million acres of this land will be used to grow cereals and 300,000 acres to grow sugarcane. The remainder will be used for horticultural crops.

“The government… [aims] to exploit the agricultural potential in ASAL [arid and semi-arid lands],” Daniel Barasa, head of the National Irrigation Board, told IRIN.  According to Vision 2030, Kenya’s economic blueprint for the next 17 years, the country’s chronically food insecure arid and semi-arid regions need special attention to help them develop.

Vision 2030 calls for the provision of water, infrastructure, pasture, fodder and veterinary services; establishing strategically located disease-free zones to increase livestock productivity and quality; unifying the efforts of different ministries and other stakeholders to coordinate development of the region; and putting more land under cultivation.

But experts are calling for caution in rolling out large-scale irrigation schemes in the ecologically fragile pastoralist areas.  “Such schemes usually incur high costs, are technically complex, and dependent on heavy machinery. This means that the sustainability of the schemes is ultimately dependent on external commitment and expertise to succeed,” Jeremy Lind, research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and member of the Future Agricultures Consortium, told IRIN...

Livestock in Kenya, USAID photo

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