Furrows in the Desert

Turkana, Kenya’s second largest county covering more than 13% of Kenya’s surface has for the past few weeks been featured in news stories and publications as one of the Kenyan counties that have been most affected by the drought. While this is true, some parts of this county tell a different narrative of colorful fresh produce ranging from watermelons, kales, spinach, sweet melons, beans, maize, tomatoes, the list goes on.

A partnership dubbed “Furrows in the Desert Project” brought together like-minded organizations; The Arava Institute, MCSPA (Catholic Mission Saint Paul),KKL and Britolam with Amiran Kenya being  the input supplier. The one of a kind approach seeks to connect with the pastrolist community in Turkana through the development of  a relationship by learning the culture while creating a connection with agriculture; the plant and the fruit.

“For an area with limited rainfall for crop growth, drip irrigation together with customized modern farming techniques are the best proven ways to make a dry area such as Turkana, bloom.”, explains Or Algazi, the Project’s Operation Manager.

Introduced by Amiran Kenya, drip irrigation is designed to allow precious and scarce water resources to be used at extreme limits to grow crops. Invented by Netafim Israel in the 1960s drip irrigation has played a major role in ‘greening the desert’ in Israel. The Negev Desert in Israel which covers over 60% of the country has actually shrunk in size over the past century as agricultural activity has turned sand into green fields, the opposite to the desertification trend which much of the rest of the world is battling to prevent.

 “In addition to improved farming methods, we have learnt through experience that you must feed the mind and the soul collectively, meaning, that as we train our new farmers on agriculture we must also not forget to forge a friendly relationship with them. Most organizations have tried setting up agro-projects in this community but sadly most do not do well for the organizations do not take time to understand the community; their traditions and way of living. This way, the community does not take up the ‘new’ as they deem it ‘not for them’ and that it does not intermarry well with their beliefs. Our approach has been to live with the people, understand their likes and wants and later package a mode of development that suites them“ Algazi discloses

 ‘Furrows in the Desert’ is working with a group of more than 120 farmers between the ages of 18 to 55 years, who after a 6 month agricultural training course have began their own farms on an average plot size of 500m squared. Currently on its 8th course with more than 19 trainees, project graduates and their families are now including cereal and vegetables to their meals instead of the normal meat, blood and milk. The trainings carried out at the project demo farm touches on land preparation, dealing with clay or sandy soil, drip irrigation installation and effective use, seeds, crop protection and nutrition.

Upon completing the training program, graduates return home and are expected to transfer the knowledge to their community members. Algazi and his team then provide the graduate with the Amiran Family Drip System, seeds and crop protection products to begin their farming venture. The Amiran Family Drip System provided to the farmers is an all-embracing gravity-based drip irrigation system utilizing low volume drip-irrigation technology. The irrigation system drips precise quantities of water and nutrients right at the root zone. The result is a highly effective distribution of water, leading to improved crop quality and increased year-round yields. 

The agro-support team provided by the project brings agro-knowledge to the farm level and walk with the farmer throughout the entire season, carrying out field visits at least once every two weeks to offer a helping hand.

With five years since its commencement, the Furrows in the Desert Project is currently in its pilot phase and recognizes the great possibilities of Turkana County. They believe that with more focused partnerships the county can and will attain its full potential turning what most saw as bare, dry land into a great agribusiness example of other Kenyan counties and the Africa Region. In line with the words of Marilyn Monroe; The Sky Is Not The limit, Your Mind Is”