A wind of change is blowing across the rice fields of Kano plains after local farmers resolved to end protracted internal leadership wrangles in a move expected to reverse the scheme’s dwindling fortunes.
The hundreds of farmers drawn from Ahero and West Kano irrigation schemes on Wednesday agreed to set aside their differences and work as team for the sake of the schemes’ progress during the meeting at Ahero National Irrigation Board (NIB).
The calling of a truce was however preceded by a heated exchange that saw members accuse the officials of the scheme’s Advisory Committee, Water Users Association, Revolving Fund and the management of the Ahero Multi-purpose Cooperative society of incompetence and graft among other ills.
“Many farmers are suffering because their paddies have not seen water for years yet they see neighbouring blocks that have been leased to private investors who are doing second crops constantly being watered,” lamented Mathews Makadodo, a local farmer.
The farmers expressed fear that the water crisis posed a security threat to the region following reports that the shortage had already triggered conflict among locals in several rice blocks within the schemes.
It took the wit and mettle of the tough talking new NIB West Kenya Senior Manager, Jairus Serede to whip the meeting back to order and broker a middle ground between the farmers and the management of the scheme’s various institutions.
Serede, who was recently posted to the scheme, pointed out that while it behoves on those in leadership to face up and be accountable, it equally demands that the leaders be respected and given the opportunity to execute their mandates.
“Whoever rejects criticism and fears being audited is not interested in helping us move forward,” he said, adding that the leaders must at all times endeavour to serve the farmers who in turn need to also respect the officials.
The manager blamed the water crisis on two of the schemes’ four pumps that stalled sometime in the past and whose impact he said has been made worse by the ongoing drought that has seen water levels at the river Nyando source recede to alarming levels.
He added that the problem had been compounded by the invasion of the intake source in West Kano by water hyacinth, but assured farmers that excavation had been started at the source where maintenance work on a third pump was on course, and would be soon be completed to complement the two working machines within a month.
Serede said a lasting solution to the perennial water crisis however lies with the planned shift to irrigation by gravity, which is at advanced stage with a Japanese donor expected to roll the project soon.
The new project would see the board considerably reduce its Shs. 2 million annual water pumping electricity cost and subsequently pass the same relief to the farmers.
As expected, the management of Shs. 200 million worth of tractors and related farm machinery programme dominated the open day meeting with farmers wanting to know how the equipment started operations without the members’ consent.
The NIB boss disclosed that seven out of the 25 tractors acquired with the assistance of the Japanese in collaboration with the Kenyan government for which the locals were to pay Shs.63 million part of which the County government already deposited Shs.10 million on their behalf had started operations.
He said relevant bodies that oversee affairs of the scheme had in consultation with the County government and key stakeholders jointly agreed to circulate the machines to forestall further loss incurred by keeping the equipment in stores.
The meeting culminated in the passing of a draft management schedule for the tractors that would see farmers pay subsidized rates of between Shs.1, 500 to Shs.2, 800 per acre depending on the nature of ploughing activity ordered for by members with non-members set to pay higher rates.
The event also saw the launch of the scheme’s 64th crop with the manager pledging to ensure that no block was left uncultivated and further calling on the support from the local leadership, even as he thanked those who had come up to help jump start the project.
At least 373 of the more than 1, 300 members of the two schemes have subscribed to the newly revamped Ahero Multipurpose Cooperative society with the manager calling for further assistance to help ground the organization.
This will go down in history as one of the rare peaceful meetings to be held by rice farmers at the Ahero scheme, and perhaps a pointer to the growing fatigue among farmers due to incessant rows, and now a thirst for a working system with better returns.
Source: Kenya News Agency