Irrigation in the Kenya’s dry lands to improve food security and unlock agricultural potential (IRIN News)

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Irrigation scheme locks horns with Kenya’s pastoralists

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.


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Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.