Ruto orders Galana Kulalu revival amid maize farming plan

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi

Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Mithika Linturi addresses journalists during a visit to Gold Crown Beverages in Shimanzi, Mombasa County, yesterday. 

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto yesterday announced plans to put 370,000 acres of the Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme under food production, focusing on maize, over the next six months.

In the plans, the National Irrigation Board (NIB) together with other investors through a public-private partnership deal will prepare 370,000 acres in the project that straddles Kilifi and Tana River counties as a long-term food security measure.

Dr Ruto also cancelled the planned subdivision of the project into residential plots (see separate story) to settle the landless. During an impromptu tour of the project, Dr Ruto said maize and other cash crops will be planted on the 1.7 million-acre agricultural project abandoned by an Israeli company after falling out with the previous administration over contractual disagreements.

This was the President’s first visit to the agricultural project since he was elected in August last year.

The Kenya Kwanza government, in its manifesto, had indicated food insecurity as a pressing concern amid reports that some 3.5 million Kenyans were facing severe hunger.

Maize flour prices

Yesterday, Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mithika Linturi, committed to lowering maize flour prices by the end of February to ease the cost of living for Kenyans. The CS, who spoke in Mombasa, promised Kenyans that the government has employed both long and short-term measures to deal with hunger and the high food prices.

For the short-term, Mr Linturi said, the government has implemented several measures to address the food shortage, including the importation of maize and rice and the use of public land for agriculture.

“We are going to put under agriculture ... all public land owned by the National Youth Service and prisons,” he said. Galana Kulalu was a key feature of the Jubilee government’s plans for food security, one of four pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s agenda. 

Its key mandate was to reduce reliance on rain-fed agriculture amid unreliable weather patterns caused by climate change.

President Ruto was accompanied yesterday by governors Abdulswamad Nassir (Mombasa), Johnson Sakaja (Nairobi), Gideon Mung’aro (Kilifi), and Issa Timmay (Lamu) among other leaders.

Two months ago, Coast governors and opposition leader Raila Odinga urged the national government to allow the region’s six counties to manage a project to enhance food security in the area that has been adversely affected by drought.

The county chiefs recommended that their Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani (JKP) economic bloc, led by its chairperson Mr Mung’aro, should take charge of the project.

Mr Mung’aro and Governor Nassir said the counties should be allowed to take over the project from the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) and National Irrigation Board (NIB), claiming that the two state agencies had run down the project. In November, the government said it was preparing to hand over 10,000 acres of the expansive project to private firms and ADC to plant maize and other cash crops.

The National Irrigation Authority (NIA), the implementer of the project, was expected to hand it over to ADC, which will be fully in charge of commercial operations in the next few months.

NIA harvested about 103,000 bags of maize from the first phase of the model farm, where 5,000 acres were put under the crop, raising questions about the viability of the project. NIA spokesperson Daniel Nzonzo said the authority is about to conclude installing irrigation infrastructure before the project is handed over.

“After an Israeli company abandoned the project due to a misunderstanding with the previous administration over contractual disagreements, a Kenyan firm took over the project as other research institutes continue finding suitable crops and varieties to be planted in the area,” Mr Nzozo said in the interview. The first contractor, Israel’s Green Arava, had set up infrastructure for 5,100 acres before NIA took over the project and began implementing it jointly with Kenyan contractor Irrico International.

Irrico International is putting up the infrastructure for Sh800 million, which is lower than the Sh5 billion spent by the Israeli company.

The target was to develop 500,000 acres of the vast ranch that covers 1.75 million acres but with the irrigation potential estimated to be 1.2 million acres.

The government intends to plant maize on 4,685 acres under centre pivot, 4,365 acres under drip, 900 acres of open-field vegetables under drip, and 50 acres of greenhouse vegetables under drip irrigation.