Shame of grand irrigation projects that lie in ruins

What you need to know:

  • While most Kenyans are aware of the Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Scheme, which collapsed after gobbling up more than Sh10 billion, there are many more little schemes that died that no one wants to talk about.  
  • Acting Tana Delta Irrigation Project (TDIP) manager, Mr Andrew Moroni, said that they have started doing some engineering works to repair infrastructure damaged when the project stalled.

For a vast county filled with lots of arable land but few water sources, pumping billions of shilling into irrigation projects in Tana River was seen as the key to unlocking not only its underutilised potential but also solving part of Kenya’s food challenges.

But for all the billions sunk by taxpayers over the past decade, Tana River can best be described as “the largest graveyard of irrigation projects”. Save for the Tana Irrigation Scheme, which died in 1989 and was recently resuscitated after more money was pumped into the project, almost every irrigation scheme in Tana River has died.

While most Kenyans are aware of the Galana-Kulalu Irrigation Scheme, which collapsed after gobbling up more than Sh10 billion, there are many more little schemes that died that no one wants to talk about.

Today, the Tana and Athi River Development Authority (Tarda), which was supposed to spur irrigation projects in the region, is down on its knees. Crucial projects under its umbrella are either completely dead or on the verge of collapsing.

The flagship Tana Delta Irrigation Scheme, which was highly hyped and expected to create more employment opportunities as well as improve the livelihoods of the locals is almost defunct, the Saturday Nation can confirm. The more than 30,000 acres, where rice thrived, are now a bushland.

Expensive machinery

According to various estimates, some Sh2.5 billion is needed to overhaul operations at the scheme that has now been lying in ruins for the last five years. Activities along the once busy Garsen-Minjila-Lamu roads have ground to a halt.

Expensive machinery once owned by the scheme remains disused. A grand plan that was to transform a pastoralist community into a farming one went up in smoke as those placed in-charge of the authority trade blame games.

Everything could have remained under the carpet had the former managing director, Mr Stephen Githaiga, not been fired last month after a court ruled that he had falsified his details. The MD, whose real name is Stephen Maina Githaiga, had changed his name to Steven Githaiga Ruimuku.

During the hearing, it emerged that Mr Githaiga, who was first hired in 2015 and given a new contract on March 2018, had also changed his year of birth from 1953 to 1958 ostensibly to delay his retirement. Furthermore, he had also skewed appointments at the authority to favour his relatives.

“The court is satisfied that the 4th respondent was in breach of the values and principles of public service as well as the requirements on code of conduct and ethics by causing to be employed by the authority, persons related to him,” the court ruled .

But as he hired his relatives, Tarda continued to crumble under his watch. Weeks after Mr Githaiga’s dismissal, the Saturday Nation went on a fact-finding mission in Tana River and found several projects that were abandoned midway under his watch.

Collapsed irrigation schemes

Some of the collapsed irrigation schemes include Tana Delta, Masinga, Kibwezi and Kiambere. Other ventures that collapsed are Emali Livestock Multiplication Project, Kitui Honey Refinery and Masinga Dam Resort, which was razed last month.

While the Kitui Honey Refinery exists on paper, getting its physical location on the ground is an exercise in futility. Locals cannot point out its exact location.

“All these projects were functioning before 2013, but they died one by one and nothing is going on there,” an employee at Tarda said.

A few days before his dismissal, Mr Githaiga while taking the Saturday Nation on a tour of the firm’s projects, said that Tarda was in the process of reviving operations of its rice milling plant to jumpstart rice production which died five years ago. According to Mr Githaiga, the project needed Sh600 million to start with, as other rehabilitation plans pick up pace. He indicated that the parastatal would place a permanent water intake at Kitere at a cost of Sh280 million, something necessitated by the diversion of the river, which affected the scheme’s farm production.

Sh145 million

Then an additional Sh145 million would still be required for rehabilitation of the water canal and protective dykes, which have since breached in several areas along the main canal.

"If you look at the canal from the lower sides, it broke banks and formed tributaries into villages and also rendered some main roads impassable, so we seek to mend that by putting up a repulsive wall along the canal," he said.

Further, Sh35 million was to facilitate the provision of secondary water delivery channels to the adjacent villages as another Sh70 million is used in procurement of water master for maintenance of the 34km canal. To rehabilitate the rice mill and its complex, Mr Githaiga noted that Sh45 million will make a difference.

Besides that, he said the parastatal requires another Sh30 million to rehabilitate some of the farm machinery and Sh55 million to restore the farmlands rendered unusable by floods.

By the time the plant stalled, Tarda had 2,000 acres under rice production, producing 1,500 tonnes per season. Should the government heed their call and offer the cash, the plant will start production on 5,000 acres, which shall translate to the production of 60,000 metric tonnes of paddy rice per day.

The Parliamentary Defence and Foreign Relations Committee and the Public Investment Committee, however, noted that most of the potential government parastatals in Tana River were on their deathbed yet the State was focusing on building fresh ones.

The vice-chairman of the Public Investment Committee, Mr Ahmed Ibrahim, said that as the State ponders on how to revive white elephant projects carried out by Tarda, the committee will move fast into auditing all monies earlier spent to run and also try to revive the plant.

Infrastructure damaged

Acting Tana Delta Irrigation Project (TDIP) manager, Mr Andrew Moroni, said that they have started doing some engineering works to repair infrastructure damaged when the project stalled.

“We are currently doing engineering works to repair irrigation infrastructure with a view of reviving the project,” he said.

Mr Moroni claims that despite the organisation presenting a budget of close to Sh400 million, only Sh70 million had been approved with a promise that more funds would be availed.

He, however, noted that though the rice mill was still in operation, the farm has not been able to produce any crop for the last three years since the river changed course. Since then, the rice shelling machines at the farm have been silent. Farmers are now left with nothing to smile about other than nostalgic remembrance of the good old days.

TDIP, whose main objective is to produce paddy rice on a 31,000-hectare farm, collapsed after River Tana changed its course, leaving the 2,000 hectares that had been opened up for production without water for irrigation. Things only worsened for the project when floods destroyed dykes and other irrigation infrastructure such as bridges two years ago.

Whereas underfunding damaged infrastructure and a changed river course are partly to be blamed, Tarda’s management has been marred with numerous in-house wars. It is these wars that led to the Union of Kenya Civil Servants filing a case in court that saw the ouster of Mr Githaiga.

Reporting by Steve Otieno, Stephen Oduor and Vincent Achuka.

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