For many years, Perkerra Irrigation Scheme in Baringo County has been a lifeline to more than 20,000 people, who directly depended on it for a living transforming the region’s economy.
Major towns in the region solely derive their existence from irrigation schemes in Baringo South that grow maize, onions, rice and vegetables.
But this story of success now faces a serious threat after a combination of factors, chief among them being the rising lakes in the Rift Valley, swept away most of the land used for irrigation.
At least 800 acres under maize was destroyed by floods in major irrigation schemes in Baringo South, which is the county’s food basket.
Among the affected irrigation schemes are Perkerra, Loropil, Murda, Nenteyo, Lebunyaki, Lorrok, Sandai, Mosuro, Eldume, Kamosok and Sukutek.
The worst hit is Perkerra, where more than 165 acres of crop under the seed maize programme was washed away by flash floods.
Displaced by floods
Ms Pauline Lesaningo, a 35-year-old mother of nine, is among the 130 families who moved to Uwanja Ndege village after they were displaced from the flood-prone Ng’ambo and Loropil villages in Baringo South in May last year after rising water levels at Lake Baringo swallowed their homes and hundreds of acres of farms, rendering them paupers.
Before being displaced from Ng’ambo village, she used to earn close to Sh240,000 from the three-acre seed maize irrigation, which was enough for her necessities.
“I have two students in secondary school and now that institutions have reopened, I do not have any money to pay for their fees. A well-wisher assisted me last term to offset part of the arrears that had accumulated for a year and I have exhausted all the options I had,” she said while fighting back tears.
Ms Lesaningo now walks six kilometres every day to Lamalok village to work at her new charcoal burning business. And with a sack going for Sh500, she sometimes has to wait up to three days to sell one.
“After our homes and farms were submerged by the drastic rise in water levels in Lake Baringo, we had to seek refuge at Uwanja Ndege village where we erected tents donated by well-wishers in the past. I lost everything, including my house, belongings and more than three acres of land which was under seed maize irrigation,” said Ms Lesaningo.
The displaced, most of whom were large scale farmers practising irrigated agriculture, are now living in dilapidated tents, close to 20km away, a safer place they have called home for 14 months. A majority of them depend on well-wishers for survival.
Majority of the affected people do not have tents and they did not salvage anything from their marooned homes, forcing them to use tattered sacks to erect structures to shelter them from the sweltering heat and the biting cold at night.
Also pondering his next move is Mr Symon Napori whose six-acre piece of land under seed maize was also swallowed by the lake waters last year when he was just preparing to harvest.
He used to earn Sh500,000 from the seed maize, but now, he says, getting one meal is a challenge.
“I had more than 10 acres at Keber village in the flood-prone Ng’ambo location and six acres was under seed maize irrigation. I used to live adjacent to Lake Baringo and when it flooded; it swept away thousands of houses, including mine. The maize, which was also ready for harvesting, was swept downstream and what used to be my home is now seven kilometres inside the lake,” said a distraught Mr Napori.
Mr Napori, who is also a church leader, has also now resorted to charcoal burning to make ends meet.
Sleeping on the bare floor in the tents with no bedding has made children in the camp contract respiratory diseases due to the biting cold and overcrowding.
According to the locals, many families in the locality go without food for days and many children suffer malnutrition due to lack of balanced meals.
“Men and young men have been forced to sleep outside while the young children and women are left to squeeze in the temporary tents. The government should come to our aid because children are already suffering from malnutrition. It is a sad state of affairs here,” said Mr Napori.
According to Murda irrigation scheme chairman Dickson Lekesho, crops on 600 acres were destroyed by floods.
Ms Sally Kiptorot, a farmer at Perkerra scheme, complained that she spent thousands of shillings to plant more than five acres of maize that was washed down stream by floods.
“Maize farming is my only source of livelihood and I was banking on fetching good money after I increased acreage from the initial two to five acres of land. Sadly, the whole of it was washed away by floods,” said Ms Kiptorot.
Perkerra Irrigation Scheme Manager Enos Wafula said the massive destruction led to farmers losing more than Sh21 million after more than 52 acres under seed maize in the scheme was swallowed by the floods. The worst hit was Loropil and R14TV blocks.
“Most farmers who were growing seed maize do not have income as most of their farms were submerged by rising water levels in Lake Baringo last year. The situation was aggravated this year as some farmers also lost their crops owing to the long dry spell that led to River Perkerra, which is the main source of water almost drying up,” said Mr Wafula.
Long dry spell
According to the manager, every April to September, more than 2,500 acres is put under seed maize production but the acreage was reduced to 2,304 acres due to acute water shortage owing to the long dry spell.
The irrigation scheme depends on River Perkerra, the only permanent river in the sub-county.
Last year, the entire scheme was cultivated and farmers earned a gross income of Sh330 million. This year, the earnings are expected to drop to Sh290 million owing to the effects of climate change.
“Those farmers who planted along the river banks were the worst hit by the floods. We are now educating farmers to avoid overreliance on maize and put more emphasis of fruit trees, which are not destroyed by flooding,” said Mr Wafula while presiding over the distribution of more than 10,000 avocado seedlings to farmers at Perkerra.
Lactating mothers suffering
Expectant women have also given birth in the dilapidated tents, posing a health risk to babies who require clean and habitable environment.
Ms Jackline Olekidogo, a mother of four who was cuddling her three-month-old baby when we visited, raised concern that lactating mothers have borne the biggest brunt of hunger in the camps, because they cannot produce milk due to hunger.
“Most of the families here depend on porridge, which is taken once a day. Children less than five years have suffered and most of them have shown signs of malnutrition due to lack of enough food,” said Ms Olekidogo.
In April this year, dozens of farmers in the flood-prone Sintaan, Majindege and Loboi villages in Baringo South also counted losses after several farms under seed maize were destroyed by floods.
Loboi Sub-Chief Maureen Barmasai said more than 10 families in Majindege village have been displaced after River Loboi burst its banks.
“Farmers who depend on seed maize farming as their source of livelihood have incurred a lot of losses as some obtained loans to till the land. As we speak, the five-acre land with crops has been completely destroyed,” said Ms Barmasai.
The affected locals complained that they have been displaced by floods over the years but little has been done by the government to end the perennial menace.
Mr Namleyole Oyala said he keeps moving due to flooding.
“I have moved to five different villages since 2005 due to floods. Last year, the Kenya Red Cross built us some houses after we were displaced but the same houses were swallowed (by flood water). The government should solve this perennial menace by giving us alternative land,” said Mr Oyala.
According to Lake Baringo Senior Warden Jackson Komen, more than 600 houses at the shores of the lake were submerged.
Founder of Climate Change Kenya Jackson Kinyanjui attributed the phenomenon behind the rising of water levels in the Rift Valley lakes to three factors — climate change, siltation caused by human activities and geologic and tectonic activities.
Kenya had two rainfalls seasons (bimodal) in the past, but due to climate change, a third season has also emerged, he said.
“The two seasons we were having are the long rains in March, April and May and the short rains from October, November and December but now we are having a new season coming up between June, July and August which has led to the rise in volumes of water in the Rift Valley lakes,” said Mr Kinyanjui.
Land use changes including human encroachment, he said, has led to siltation in many lakes, sparking the rise in water levels.
“In Turkana for instance, the construction of Gibe dam is one effect of land use changes because they are harbouring water and then release it at once, draining silt into Lake Turkana, forcing it to flood because of more soils underneath. This is the same case in the other lakes in Rift Valley,” said the expert.
Geologic and tectonic activity is also another factor that has contributed to the swelling of Lakes which happens through the shift in the plates. In the Rift Valley, there is the Nubian and the Somalian plate, which are moving away from one another at a distance of one to two centimetres every year.
“When these plates are moving away, they cause the underground aquifers to be released. That is why you are seeing most lakes swelling without any rainfall, because the water is coming from below, courtesy of the movement of the Somalian and Nubian plates that are dominant in Kenya. Even though the distance of movement is very small, it has a great impact,” said Mr Kinyanjui.
He said the aquifers in the lakes are now full of water and cannot absorb more, thus leading to increased volumes over time.
“The movement of tectonic plates is also raising fears that the two lakes; Baringo and Bogoria could join underground and this will lead to an ecological disaster because the former is fresh water while the other is saline,” he noted.
The expert also attributed the swelling waters of the Rift Valley to geological exploration in the region.
“The geothermal activity has affected the level of steam underground, which has also affected the hot geysers in Lake Bogoria not to shoot higher as in the past. It is also creating a problem for exploration activities because they will not be getting enough steam for the generation of electricity,” said the expert who is also the country coordinator for climate reality.
As a solution to the swelling of water bodies, he suggested the movement of people from the Mau Forest water tower.
“Mau Forest is the largest catchment area for most rivers feeding the lakes in Rift Valley. This will pave way for re-afforestation and can reduce the effects of soil erosion which lead to siltation,” noted Mr Kinyanjui.
He also suggested the drilling of a canal at the swollen lakes to drain excess water, but he advised the creation of more irrigation schemes to utilise the water released from the water bodies.
“The devolved units should also carry out a current research of their lakes to come up with new high water levels beaconing, so that people can be evacuated to safer areas.
“We are not seeing the water levels receding any time soon because the lakes are reclaiming their former positions. This phenomenon happened in the 1950s and it is a cycle that is happening every 60 years. Even if it recedes, it will still go back to its original levels after some years, you cannot build permanent structures and then demolish after some time,” he said.
Look for alternative land
He said the phenomenon indicates that affected people bordering the lakes had encroached on them because they were dry. He instead advised them to look for alternative land.
According to Mr Kinyanjui, Lake Baringo has increased by more than 109 per cent since 2010, which at the time was 159km square. In 2014, it increased to 221km² and in 2019 it was 278km² respectively.
Lake Bogoria also increased by 25 per cent since 2010 from 34km² to 40km² in 2014 and 43km² square in 2019.
The rising lakes rendered more than 10,000 people homeless after their houses were submerged.
Lake Baringo, for instance, had increased from 236km² in 2015 to 278km², posing a threat to adjacent structures, including homesteads and institutions.
Lake Bogoria had also increased from the initial 34km² to 45km² in a span of one month, submerging major roads leading to the park and adjacent structures.