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Kenya: Irrigation Repairs Prove Providential in Drought-Hit Turkana

Nangor Lobongia stands in her field of sorghum.

(Copyright: WFP/Rose Ogola)

The rebuilding of an irrigation scheme in northern Kenya last year has turned out to be crucial for farmers like Nangor Lobongia. It has meant she and her family have avoided joining the thousands now queueing for food aid in the drought-hit Turkana region.

NAIROBI -- As people in other parts of northwestern Kenya’s Turkana region queue for food aid to help them through the drought, Nangor Lobongia is among several thousand smallholder farmers who have been able to harvest a reasonable crop of sorghum and maize.

Nangor is a member of the Morulem Irrigation Scheme in Turkana East. For three years, the farmers had to depend on relief food after the scheme collapsed, first due to drought and then to floods, which destroyed irrigation channels and but also left farms and villages submerged in water.

“I sing for joy as I harvest my crop,” says Nangor, a widowed mother of seven. “The last three years were very difficult, and for the first time, my family had to depend on aid. I thank God that WFP helped us to rehabilitate our project and we can grow food again.” 

18,000 beneficiaries

The work of digging out the clogged irrigation channels and mending other infrastructure was carried out by local farmers under the supervision of the Kenyan Ministry of Water and Irrigation, through the Turkana Rehabilitation Programme. WFP lent a crucial hand through its Food-for-Assets (FFA) programme. 

WFP provided the farmers with food and non-food items, including farm tools and seeds, as part of the rehabilitation of the project. According to the chairman of the scheme, Phillip Esinyon, 18,000 people are benefitting.

At Kalobeyei in Turkana West, former pastoralist Sara Ekwuam is hosting several of her pastoralist relatives who have temporarily moved in with her after they heard she had a good harvest.

Artificial ponds

“Previously my family depended on pastoralism but over time the rains became less and less, and we were unable to find pasture and water for our livestock. As a result we were forced to depend on relief,” said Sara.

With support from WFP, Sara and other farmers in Kalobeyei have constructed soil ‘bunds’ – artificial ponds that hold rainwater and keep crops growing even when there is little rainfall.

“Although we didn’t get a lot of rain, the water in the bunds was enough to grow this sorghum crop to maturity,” she said, pointing at her harvest. “I harvested 10 bags. I will sell 5 of them to buy other things that I need and keep 5 bags.” 

Turkana is one of the 15 districts where WFP is implementing FFA projects in partnership with the Kenyan government. Through FFA, WFP works with communities to improve their resilience and help them build assets that will improve their food security. In arid districts of northern Kenya, these projects focus on rainwater harvesting, micro-irrigation, and soil- and water-conservation.