County that could feed the whole of Kenya

Farmers clean and package carrots at Wanjohi trading centre in Nyandarua county. The region is one of Kenya’s biggest producer of fresh produce. Photo/SULEIMAN MBATIAH

Nyandarua lags behind other counties simply because it lacks the means to realise the potential of its vast fertile soils, favourable climate and rivers that never run dry.

If only its massive resources could be properly exploited it could feed the entire country with its Irish potatoes, cabbages and other vegetables that grow in plenty.

Presently most of the fresh produce eaten in Nairobi is grown in Nyandarua.

Nyandarua is surrounded by the Aberdares, one of the country’s water towers. And several major rivers originating from the mountains cut across the county making it one of the best watered lands in Kenya. And since rains are received all the year round, dairy farming also flourishes.

But without the right infrastructure — power and roads — most of these resources remain unexploited.

Improvements have been seen in the last two years following completion of the 100-kilometre Dundori-Ol-Kalou-Njabini highway that has opened up the agriculture-rich southern part of the county to Nairobi and other towns.

However, transporting food and milk to the highway is still a problem and county leaders have been under pressure to have the smaller feeder roads rebuilt.

For years Nyandarua has experienced slow growth compared to other counties in Central Kenya because of what some people claim is poor leadership.

But others blame the state of affairs on the fact the county was deliberately ignored by successive regimes because its leaders, starting from Josiah Mwangi Kariuki, who was assassinated in 1975, were government critics.

Then there is the fact being a settlement region, most of its early elected leaders had divided loyalties with their places of origin.

Nyandarua was created in 1963 by President Kenyatta who carved it out of Laikipia and Naivasha, which are in the Rift Valley province. He positioned it in Central Province.

It was settled by people mainly from Central Kenya.

Before Independence, Nyandarua was occupied mainly by European settlers and their workers.

The first leaders who were born and brought up in the county started seeking elective positions only in the late 1980s. 

Perhaps the most influential politician from the area was JM. MP for Nyandarua North, he had the motivation to champion the interests of the people in the county but was killed at the height of his political career.

Besides resettling landless people in Nyandarua, JM tried to address the contentious issues of the district headquarters.

Nyandarua has never had a distinct HQ. When the district was created by Mzee Kenyatta Nyahururu was temporarily made the HQ because it was an outpost of the colonial government that was the gateway to the country’s Northern Frontier District.

But it was Ol Kalou that was earmarked to house the new HQ because it is centrally placed.

This never happened, however and Nyahururu continued to serve as the district HQ din spite of being in Laikipia district of Rift Valley Province.

The late JM made several attempts to transfer the HQ to Ol Kalou but he died before he could realise his dream. It is only recently that the Government moved Nyandarua County HQ to Ol Kalou.

However, it remains unclear what will happen to all the investment the Government made in Nyahururu Town, now to be in Laikipia County, given that most were meant for the people of Nyandarua.

For years, Nyandarua’s poor roads meant all its constituencies of Kinangop, Kipipiri, Ol Kalou and Ndaragwa were almost inaccessible.

As a result, the county’s economy plunged into perpetual crisis as farm and dairy produce was left to rot with markets almost impossible to reach.

However, the Kibaki administration breathed new life into the county.

The inception of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) by the then Ol Kalou MP, Mr Muriuki Karue, was a major catalyst to economic growth.

Projects such as the Ol Kalou Dairy Plant, the building of schools and dispensaries, and the upgrading of village roads in all four constituencies were promising examples of the recuperating economy.

The icing on the cake came with the upgrading of the Njabini – Ol Kalou – Dundori road. The Sh3.5 billion road has opened up the county to new markets. Land prices have also increased as more people seek to settle in the area.

The road connects the south and northern sections of the county, linking them with Nairobi and major towns.

The road cuts across Ndundori, Tumaini, Ol Kalou, Wanjohi and Miharati in Nyandarua Central and Kipipiri districts, passing through Mawingu, Ndunyu Njeru and Engineer in North Kinangop.

It ends at Njabi-ini Trading Centre in South Kinagop to link up with the old tarmac that runs from Fly Over area on the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway.

“Everything here has changed. Buyers come right to our farms to buy the produce, and it is now that we are realising how important it is to own land here,” said farmer Margaret Kariuki of Tumaini.
Mrs Kariuki owns 25 acres, which she says would not have attracted any buyers five years ago.

At the time, Mrs Kariuki recalls they used to sell an extended bag of Irish potatoes for Sh300 or less since vehicles transporting the farm produce would take days to reach the market in Nairobi. 

And instead of going to waste, part of the harvest including cabbages, kale and carrots would be given to livestock.

“Today we sell an extended bag of potatoes at between Sh1,000 to Sh3,000 as buyers come all the way from Nairobi and even Mombasa,” Mrs Kariuki said.

Milk prices have also changed as farmers are finding it easy to reach the market in Nakuru through the 17-kilometre Lanet-Dundori road, which is still being built to connect with the Nakuru-Nairobi Highway.

“Currently, a litre of milk is going for between Sh27 and Sh30. And this is a great improvement to us, since for long we did not have market for our milk, which we would either feed to dogs or empty it on the ground,” Mrs Kariuki said.

The whole area reached by the new road is very rich in agriculture and it is one of the leaders in dairy farming.

With the improved market for crops, demand for land has gone up. Five years ago an acre in Ndundori, Tumaini or Ol Kalou was less than Sh60,000, revealed Mr Gichuki Githinji.

“I bought my two acres at Sh80,000 in 1995. At the time, very few people wanted to buy land here as roads were impassable for most parts of the year,” he said, and added that the same land is now Sh300,000 an acre.

Several new mansions are being built alongside the highway where people are selling plots.

To take advantage of the new nearness to markets, some farmers have tried horticulture and fish farming instead of relying on traditional tubers and vegetables.

Mr Josephat Kinyanjui, the chairman of Mahiga-ini fish farmers self-help group in Wanjohi, helps to run 47 fish ponds that the Fisheries ministry built for them.

They were also given fingerlings and two nets for catching the fish, plus training on how to prepare fish for food.

The group has started to explore markets for their fish in big towns and meanwhile they are encouraging local people to eat more fish.

“Since we can easily reach the local towns and trading centres given that there is a tarmac road, we have managed to establish local market for ourselves,” he said.

One of the markets is Miharati Trading Centre, the new headquarters for Kipipiri District.

Traders from throughout the country are buying fish in the area.

“When we settled here in the 1960s, there were a lot of trout in Wanjohi River and the white settlers had taught people how to fish and prepare them for food,” Mr Kinyanjui recalled.

Now that they have plenty of water they have tapped from the Aberdare Forest and a good road, the he said they were trying to sell their fish in Nairobi, Nakuru and Nyahururu.

The feeder roads are still poor, however, and that is an area the new county government will have to tackle.

The government will also have to install electricity in these remote rural homes.

All in all, the new road has created jobs for a number of youths, who tie up the bags of potatoes, carrots and cabbages while others load them into lorries or pickups.