Deputy President William Ruto has said the Government is committed to making Kenya food stable.
He noted that irrigation would play a pivotal role in the new development that would also help Kenyans turn agriculture into a commercial venture.
Speaking during an inspection tour of the Sh1.7-billion Phase One Korakora Gravity Canal Project under the Bura Irrigation and Settlement Scheme Rehabilitation in Tana River County on Thursday, Dr Ruto said the country cannot attain food security if it relies solely on rain-fed agriculture.
The Deputy President said the Government was committed to eliminating hunger through Food Security, a pillar in President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda.
“Our goal as Government is to ensure that we increase acreage of land under irrigation in this area to 40,000 to boost food supply,” said Dr Ruto.
He regretted that the Korakora project delayed for seven years due to contract-related issues, noting that the new contractor had been asked to complete the work in a year’s time.
“It is through increased investments in irrigation that the country can have ample food to feed itself and sell the surplus for income,” said Dr Ruto.
Leaders present were MPs Ali Wario (Bura), John Paul (Igembe South), Adan Ali (Mandera East), Tana River Woman Representative Rehema Hassan and the Chairman of the National Irrigation Board Joshua Toro.
And in Bura town, the Deputy President distributed coconut and cashew nuts tree seedlings to farmers, where he called for diversification in farming.
This, he explained, would not only eliminate hunger but also rid the country of unemployment and poverty.
“The fruit tree-seedling initiative is a response to President Kenyatta’s directive that requires all parastatals to set aside 10 per cent of their social responsibility budget towards tree planting in an effort to expand the forest cover from seven per cent to 10 per cent,” he added.
The Sh18.7-million project was designed to not only increase forest cover but also provide farmers with an alternative source of food and income.
Dr Ruto said the project would significantly contribute to the realisation of the Big Four agenda on food security and nutrition, and create jobs for youths as envisioned in the Vision 2030.
Already, the National Irrigation Board has planted 415,300 cashew nuts seedlings and distributed some 20,600 seedlings to farmers.
Besides this, the Board has also planted 105,400 coconut seedlings that would be distributed to farmers once they are ready.
According to Mr Toro, the produce value of one coconut tree a season is Sh3,000 while that of cashew nuts is Sh2,500.
Dr Ruto said it was impressive that the Bura project had already developed 12,000 acres under irrigation but challenged its management to work towards attaining its 40,000 acres potential.
Mr Ali, who is also the chairman of Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries lauded the efforts by the Government to transform the lives of people in arid areas through modern agriculture.
The National Irrigation Board’s Managing Director Gitonga Mugambi said the scheme contributes to the economy of Tana River County by creating employment and business opportunities.
He said farmers earned an average of Sh103 million in the last three years from seed maize production.
During the same period, farmers earned about Sh200 million from horticultural crops such as watermelon, tomatoes and onions.
Mr Wario urged people living in arid and semi-arid regions to make use of the irrigation opportunities presented to them by the government.
“The diversification to cashew nuts and coconuts assures the public of an income. This will address the unemployment challenge among youths in this region,” noted the Bura MP.
In Garsen, where the Deputy President addressed wananchi, Ms Hassan challenged women not to be left behind in making an income through agriculture.
“As we push for equality, let us also not be left behind this new development. Let us (women) plunge ourselves in his activity for income and create employment for ourselves,” she said.