State surges on with Sh400bn food project despite alarm bells


The second phase of the Sh400 billion Galana-Kalulu food security project is set to start even as experts warn that it is not financially and environmentally viable.

The National Irrigation Board has announced a tender for the second phase of the project which covers Tana River and Kilifi counties despite the poor harvest recorded in the 10,000-acre model farm whose outcome was to be replicated in the one million acres.

A consortium of consultants hired by the government noted that the cost of the project could shoot to Sh1.45 trillion when the targeted 1 million acres are irrigated, as currently the 10,000-acre demo farm had consumed Sh14.5 billion, with a paltry harvest.

The study report handed recently to Water and Irrigation Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalawa noted that the Sh135.6 billion for the water conveyance system, Sh122 billion for the dam and Sh6.4 annual pumping costs were not factored in to the initial budget, hence the expected rise in cost.


According to a tender notice, NIB is seeking to contract a firm for construction of dams, staff houses and an electric fence for phase two of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme.

Interested firms have until December 18 to submit their bids for the works.

Those eligible should have a financial muscle of Sh10 billion and show ability to raise Sh122 billion to undertake the project in the remaining 400,000 acres of land.

“This project aims at implementing phase two of the scheme on a design-build basis whose components comprise development of a mega dam with a capacity of two billion cubic meters, a water distribution system as well as staff houses,” said NIB in the public notice.

The second phase will see the construction of a dam, electric fence, staff housing and office blocks to be used by staff whose projected numbers are 50 senior managers, 200 middle level managers and 300 junior staff.


The move by the government comes against the backdrop of a dismal harvest from the 10,000-acre demo farms that were harvested in October.

The scheme produced ten 90kg bags of maize per acre instead of 40, prompting MPs to question the viability of the Jubilee flagship project in Parliament.

The consulting firm had questioned the viability of the model farm even before the harvest.

At inception, it was reported that one acre would produce 40 bags of maize, higher than the national average of 17 bags that farmers in the country’s grain basket of Rift Valley harvest from the same size of land.

The National Irrigation Board engaged the consortium made up of Agri-green Consulting Ltd (Israel), Environplan and Management Consultants Ltd (Kenya) and Amiran (K) Ltd (Kenya) to carry out a pre-feasibility study and plan the project.

“There is a need to interrogate the viability of both the model farm and the larger Kalulu Irrigation Project.

Pumping huge volumes of water through 2m diameter pipes is very enormous in terms of capital costs for pumps, steel pipes, reservoir and running cost of pumping”, reads part of the report.

Water available in the Athi/Galana River can irrigate 402,000 acres, which is only 40 per cent of the anticipated one million acres.

Although diversion of water from the Tana River would irrigate another 469,000 cares, the experts argue that the distance to the Galana-Kalulu and the topography would result in enormous water flow in canals and pipes.

“This has enormous cost implications and engineering challenges that can make water delivery non-feasible and non-practical for construction as it requires 2m diameter steel pipes for a distance beyond 250km of very rugged terrain”.

The study also raised issues on the pumping cost, arguing that the area earmarked for construction of the dam is not suitable since it was not possible to utilise gravity flow, hence high pumping costs.

“The estimated annual pumping requirement is 492 million kW, with pump capacity ranging from 6,700kW to 13,000kW, resulting in a pumping cost of Sh6.2bn a year. The pumps will require huge capital costs.”

Last year, the Public Investment Committee was told by National Irrigation Board boss Daniel Barasa that President Uhuru Kenyatta was misled to commission the irrigation scheme yet a feasibility report had not been done.