Bura rice farmers rattled as scheme hit by water shortage

Farmers protest outside the Bura Irrigation Scheme offices in Tana River County.

Photo credit: Stephen Odour I Nation

An acute water shortage has hit the Bura Irrigation Scheme in Tana River County following a prolonged dry spell and claims of skewed water distribution.

Farmers said the scheme may post low harvests this season.

Farmer Francis Njenga estimated that crops on more than 300 acres have dried up, with another 100 acres of rice threatened.

"We have invested a lot and if we are not losing our crops to wildlife, we are losing it to the drought. This is disheartening," he said.

His sentiments were echoed by fellow farmer Peter Munga, who claimed that workers at the National Irrigation Authority’s (NIA) Bura office and other senior government officials had apportioned themselves land in the scheme and are getting adequate water.

"We have really struggled to rise back to economic independence, but it seems there is a plot to suppress our efforts so that we can lease our farms to rich merchants and be their labourers, like it has been for a while. That we won't accept," he said.

He said that though the cost of irrigation had risen from Sh5,000 to Sh7,500, which farmers have paid without complaints, water supply was skewed, pushing farmers to poverty.

"There is a game being played on us here, and we are tired of it. We want this manager to explain to us why we can't get our fair share of water on our farms just like the rich merchants on the same farm, else one of us will not sit comfy," he warned.

Farmer Milka Samuel claimed the water crisis on the farm was created by top officers at the NIA headquarters who have a lot to gain from the fuel supply for irrigation pumps.

The problem, she said, would have been resolved by the gravity canal project that has taken decades to complete. She claimed the delay is a deliberate plot by unscrupulous dealers supplying fuel for pumping water in the scheme.

"The fuel used in pumping water on this farm runs to tens of millions every season,” she said.

“The tractors used on this Bura farm belong to one individual, who most likely supplies the fuel, and he is not in this Bura office. The government should investigate this fraud." 

But the scheme’s manager, Peter Orua, dismissed the farmers’ accusations, stating they all get a fair share of the water on their farms.

He said managers resorted to rationing water because the pump could not sustain the routine farmers become used to for decades.

"Technically, this farm was designed for cotton and maize farming and the pump installed here was for that purpose,” he said. 

“But currently we have a huge acreage of paddy rice which demands a lot of water. The pump cannot sustain that and we have to ration the water on a day's intervals."

If the pump is used 24 hours a day as farmers were used to, he said, it could break down and cause more problems.

Rice farming uses more water than other crops, he said, and farmers should plan accordingly.

"There are farmers we advised not to plant. Some took our advice while others ignored. Paddy rice uses a lot of water and when we pump water in the morning, by daybreak, it evaporates. It’s a climate issue, not our making,” Mr Orua said.

He added that once the gravity water canal is completed, farmers will be able to grow whatever they want at any time of the season.

The Bura gravity canal is a Sh7.1 billion project designed to facilitate irrigation using natural energy. 

The project, initiated more than a decade ago, has received several extensions and changes of contractors.

Farmers in Bura hope the project will be completed by the end of the year. They urged President William Ruto to live up to his word regarding the project.


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