BURA IRRIGATION SCHEME, THE LAND OF CROP DIVERSITY
Farmers at Bura Irrigation Scheme are exceptional for crop diversity. The scheme has expanded from 6,250 acres under irrigated agriculture at its inception to the current 12,000 acres out of a potential of 25,000 acres. The farmers grow seed maize, commercial maize, green grams, cowpeas, soybean, watermelon, cotton, tomatoes, sorghum and most recently Komboka rice, as allowed by the soil fertility.
The development of the Lower Tana Basin through development of irrigated agriculture was inevitable due to rapid increase in the country’s population since the 1950s and owing to a vast of Kenya’s land area being arid and semi-arid (ASAL).
The scheme was started with the objective to settle the landless, unemployed or the under-employed. About 5,150 families were to be settled in Phase I and about 3,000 families in the next. Currently, 2,245 farmers are settled at the scheme. In addition, it was to open up arid and semi-arid regions to farming by providing water as well as improve and rehabilitate the environment by planting trees to provide fuel wood and building materials for the scheme’s population and its surroundings. The target area to be afforested was 11,250 acres.
The National Irrigation Authority supplies irrigation water to support production activities at the scheme. Additionally, it develops and improves irrigation infrastructure for national or public schemes, provides technical advisory services to irrigation schemes in terms of design, construction supervision, administration, operation and maintenance under appropriate modalities, including agency contracts.
The Authority is supported by various farmer-based organisations that support the scheme’s operations. The Irrigation Water Users Association (IWUA) help with water management and distribution at the tertiary level while Bura Irrigation Farmers Sacco provides credit and markets the produce. Moreover, the farmers have village grower groups for the recruitment for contracted farming, for example seed maize production, and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) that mobilise farmers to carry out production activities at the scheme.
Bura Irrigation Scheme has four water pumps, each with a discharge capacity of 2.7m3/second. The average pumping of 16 hours a day can accommodate approximately 2,000 acres of crop, equivalent to the use of approximately KSh204,000 fuel. The Authority is constructing Kora Kora gravity intake and new canal that will convert the scheme from pump fed system to gravity fed system so as to improve its sustainability.
The gravity-fed system will reduce the amount of money spent on maintenance of the pump station accessories as well as fuel cost, thus reducing the cost of crop production. Bura Irrigation and Settlement Scheme Rehabilitation Project will, upon completion, put an additional 4,000 acres under irrigation and enhance food and nutrition security, thereby improving livelihoods and food security in the country.
The scheme injected KSh39 million into the economy in the 2019/20 financial year from seed maize alone through contracted farming by Kenya Seed Company Limited. In 2020/21 financial year, it injected KSh48 million into the economy through Komboka rice farming and KSh216 million in the financial year 2021/22 through the same rice venture.
Averagely, farmers at Bura Irrigation Scheme earn KSh200 million annually from horticultural crops such as watermelon, tomatoes and bulb onions. Additionally, they earn approximately KSh250 million from rice, commercial maize, pulses and cotton production.
“Bura Irrigation Scheme has been my source of livelihood. Through farming here at the scheme, I have raised my family and paid school fees for my children,” Jackson Ngatia, a horticultural farmer growing watermelon in his 4.5-acre farm, says. He is expecting good returns from his harvest. “This season will be good. I am expecting 30 tonnes from my farm and will be selling at KSh25 per kilogrammne from KSh15 because the market is favourable,” he adds.
Mohammed Abdullahi Shidhe, an agro-pastoralist, echoes the impact irrigation has had in his life. “With farming, I am sure my goats, cows and family have food,” he says. “When I decided to venture into farming I started with maize and the returns it gave me made me want to do more. Now I grow maize and watermelons,” he adds. He continues to encourage pastoralists to venture into food crop farming to boost income.
“Komboka rice farming has changed my life. This season, I am expecting to harvest an average of 36 bags of 90kg from an acre,” Stephen Jaramba, a rice farmer testifies. The National Cereals and Produce Board has provided them with ready market offering KSh60 per kilogramme of rice.
Mr Peter Orua, the Bura Irrigation Scheme manager, is optimistic that this price will go up when more people from the private sector join and currently buying the rice at KSh62 per kilogramme.
John Muigai, a 28-year old onion farmer, says he has been farming for the last seven years. “I have never sought employment. Farming has been my source of livelihood. With it, I have taken care of my wife and three children,” he says. “I urge the youth to take up hoes and get into farming. To earn a living, you must sweat.”
Bura Irrigation Scheme has not only changed the livelihood of farmers and added to the food security basket of the country, it has also employed many.
Grace Njuguna, a plant operator, says she was able to raise her standard of living and provide for her family’s basic needs through operating a grader at the scheme. She levels the field for rice farmers during the planting season and during the off-season works on the scheme roads.
Stephen Waithanji watches over the farms in the night to keep animals, including warthogs and buffaloes, at bay while Suleiman Abdi drives birds away during the day.
“Bura Irrigation Scheme is cosmopolitan. For this reason, we strive to offer farmers a variety of crops they can afford to grow. Currently, they range from Komboka rice, seed and commercial maize, to watermelon, bulb onions, tomatoes and sunflower,” says Mr. Orua.
He adds the Authority has started undertaking trials before introducing any crop to the Scheme farmers. Seed maize and Komboka rice are examples of crops that have undergone successful trials before being introduced to farmers. “We will be introducing soya bean farming to the farmers in the next season after successful trials. Sunflower (Hysun 33) is a variety that is also promising and upon successful completion of trials, we will introduce it to the farmers,” adds Mr Orua.
As envisaged during inception, the scheme has supported and continues to support many livelihoods as the main source of food and employs people. This has had a major impact on the region and beyond as some of the crops are sold in Mombasa, Garissa, Dadaab and Nairobi.