Pokot warriors abandon cattle rustling and turn to farming
Pokot warriors are turning to the most unlikely source of livelihood that has seen some guns fall silent: farming. When his herd of cattle and flock of sheep were stolen by cattle rustlers years ago, 54-year-old Ekuam Ng’asike rediscovered his passion for agriculture – thanks to funding from the government and humanitarian agencies in the banditry-prone agro-pastoralist area.
The father of four, a former cattle rustler from West Pokot County, has now teamed up with a group of reformed warriors to form Kaputir Resource Management Association (Karma) to advance their economic achievements through irrigated agriculture. “The going was not easy after venturing into agriculture, a field that I had little knowledge about. At one point I thought of giving up, but I had no other source of livelihood for my family,” Mr Ng’asike told the Nation. “ I contemplated giving up, but I had to soldier on, and you can see where I am now,” said My Ng’asike as he inspected his crop ready for the market in Lodwar Town and other parts of semi-arid Turkana county.
The region has traditionally been synonymous with cattle rustling as an economic activity but not any more as the people have now substituted their guns for jembes, raking in millions from agriculture. Most horticultural crops produced in West Pokot County are sold in Nairobi, Kitale, Eldoret, Kisumu, Kakamega, Lodwar and Mombasa. With the millions they are making, the people are appealing to banks to set up branches there. “I make good sales every day, but at the end of the business, I have to take home the cash for lack of banks,” said Ezekiel Ndururu, a farmer.
He sometimes puts his money under the mattress or ends up squandering it because he knows that he will make more the following day. This is a situation he could avoid if he had a bank account. To cut down on production costs and achieve better bargaining power, the herdsmen-turned farmers have formed a group of 250 members, 72 of whom are supported by the United States African Development Foundation (USADF), an American development agency, to cultivate various food crops on the banks of River Turkwel.
Other groups – Kapelbok and Nayaliira at Kaptir location in Turkana South sub-county – are cultivating maize, sorghum and finger millet and various types of vegetables. “We have enough food supplies, and we can now afford to take our children to school from the revenue we make from the crops,” said Akoru Ewoi, who has planted two acres of land next to River Turkwel planted with vegetables and sorghum. Peter Emuria Eleon, chairman of Naoyaregae group, said he earned over Sh45,000 from half an acre of onions, sukuma wiki and capsicum after investing Sh15,000. The government allocated Sh16 billion in the last financial budget for irrigated agriculture to increase crop production and attain food security.
“We formed groups to access funds from the government and other development partners and venture into crop production which has proved lucrative,” said Mr Eleon. “It took many years involving field tours to agricultural farms such as Delamare in Naivasha to learn how to do it,” said Peter Edapal Epem of Kapelbok group.
“What I have achieved is impressive, and I have never regretted diversifying into crop production.” “We have never looked back since going into irrigation farming after losing most of our animals to cattle rustlers and drought,” Mr Eleon said. The success story of farmers operating under the umbrella of Karma has inspired other pastoralists along River Kerio to invest in agriculture.
“Cereal and vegetable cultivation has proved to be a wonderful investment in the region,” Mr Ng’asike said. “I feel more secure after switching to crop production to supplement my income.” David Mukhwana, a trader from Kakamega who buys onions from Ortum, said there was need for banks to consider setting up branches at the market because traders like him fill insecure walking with money for long distances to buy the produce from the farmers.
He said that, the onions from Ortum are sold in major cities and towns in the country as well as in Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan. As a result of the booming business, there are three consecutive onion market days in Ortum; Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. According to the farmers, the entire East African region depends on onions from Tanzania, Ortum and Mount Elgon. Farmers ferry their onion produce on donkeys from their farms to Ortum market where the traders buy and ferry them to different markets.
Jackson Lemaken, an onion farmer from Kabalaka area in Ortum cited the poor state of roads from the farms to the market as another big challenge that they are facing. “Since the roads are in a dilapidated state, we have to use donkeys to deliver the onions from the farms to the market but sometimes the animals collapse and die on the way because of the bad terrain,” Lemaken said.
Courtersy of Daily Nation