By Kelvin Koinet
The community living within Nguruman irrigation scheme is set to change their locally developed farming and irrigation system after the laying of a new irrigation scheme in the area.
The scheme is distinctive in the area with fertile soils, plenty supply of water and rich in vegetation cover. It is within Olkiramatian Group Ranch of the Maasai pastoral community, about 150 km from Nairobi. It is connected to the small soda ash mining town of Magadi via a murram road that runs through the salty plains dominated by stunted acacia trees, short shrubs and scrubs. The scheme is divided into two main blocks. Entasopia block starts from Entasopia water intake, spreads through the Congo village while the Oloibortoto block starts at Oloibortoto water intake through Oltepesi village both ending at river Ewaso Ng’iro south about 8 kilometers to the east.
View of the scheme from Nguruman escarpments
Photo by Kelvin Koinet
Mr. Mathu, an agricultural officer in the area said “If appropriate farming and irrigation methods are used, we will produce large volumes of agricultural produce for the cosmopolitan community that lives here”.
Small Scale Horticultural Development Project (SHDP) supported by African Development Bank (ADB) and the ministry of agriculture is installing a new irrigation system whereby all irrigation water will be piped to the farms and sprinkler system will replace the basin irrigation. This is in a view to reduce water loss through evaporation and seepage. The efficiency of the system will reduce labor in terms of canal cleaning and maintaining and watering labor. It is expected that acreage under cultivation will increase from the current 350 ha to 1,876 ha and therefore increase production.
SHDP has facilitated the formation of a functional association (Nguruman Irrigation Water Users Association) whose main objectives are to manage the scheme in terms of operation and maintenance of the irrigation infrastructure, production and marketing of horticultural produce, environmental conservation and conflict management. The association seeks to mitigate low prices of agriculture produce and poor transport infrastructure as well as forming a link between farmers and the SHDP. The association is registered with the ministry of gender and social services. There are challenges though. Members have not held elections as stipulated by the constitution. It is now four years yet they should have been held after three years.
It is important to understand the history of farming in the area which is believed to have commenced in early sixties and development can be traced back to the time. The pioneers were the Sonjo and the Waarrusa communities from Tanzania. During that time in the early sixties, the Maasai community was purely pastoralist practicing the nomadic pastoralism in the open Olkiramatian plains. Later a few Maasai community members came to Nguruman for farming.
Irrigation water is abstracted from the two main rivers Oloibortoto and Entasopia that transverse the scheme down from Nguruman escarpment. Up to date, Water for irrigation is drawn from the rivers using simple division by gravity into constructed canals that lead to farms. In the beginning, Irrigation was by flooding and farmers used water whenever they want because it was plenty. Crops grown were maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, millet, sorghum, guards, pumpkin, bananas, mangoes and sugar cane.
Each canal is now managed by an elected committee that ensures the watering schedule is followed and the canal is maintained. Farmers today use basin irrigation where the land is tilled and basins are constructed to retain water. Crops grown have also changed. As reported by Mr. Bainito, Agricultural Extension Officer (AEO) Magadi, in 1991 the ministry of agriculture introduced the Asian vegetables for export. The business brought a lot of revenue to the farmers and this catapulted the area to fame thereafter.
Members of the scheme are now taking sides concerning the project. Part of the community thinks the project will create a micro economic zone and promote faster development.A bigger percentage of the community is not for the new irrigation project. “Honestly I don’t like the project. We are afraid of the change, because we are uncertain of the outcome. What will happen to the wildlife and cattle that is depended on the natural rivers and irrigation canals as water points? Is there a provision for water points for them? We may lose our wildlife”, Satia, a youth from the area and a research assistant at ICIPE questioned.
Farmers say there will be an obvious wildlife human conflict for water and feeds if all the green that is mostly on canals will be gone. A student from an American university taking environmental studies established that if all the irrigation water is tapped in to pipes, most of the figs and many other tree species growing along water canals may be phased out. Farmers fear that birds will eat their corn or they may poison them all. As observed by a group of resource assessors from Olkiramatian Research Centre, Lalleenok. Over twenty birds of different species visit a fig tree in thirty minutes to eat figs or to rest. That may mean the birds will have crops as alternative feeds and habitat.
The community feels that there should have been a lot of consultations which they claim have not been the case. But now that the project has started, they are asking for a provision for water to flow in the initial water ways at least once a week for the vegetation, livestock and wildlife.
“If all that the community is asking to be considered is in cooperated, then we have the best project ever”, One of the farmers said.