By Ephraim Njenga
I tend to think that the government should have a more grand vision of the one million Galana Kulalu irrigation scheme.
The scheme should be modeled into an agri-city. Consider that Nairobi is a total of about 172,000 acres and not all of it is inhabited since Nairobi National Park occupies about 29,000 acres. It means that in Kulalu if you set aside 70,000 acres for low density occupation you can have a very well planned high quality of life city. The supporting base for the city would be agriculture, auxiliary agri-businesses and other support businesses. We need to disburse settlement away from the Nairobi-Malaba rail line corridor.
The remaining land can be put into crop and livestock production. It is absurd that government is just obsessed with planting maize there. Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) should be doing studies on all types of crop that can grow there. To illustrate this consider growing cane at the Galana Kulalu scheme.
In the 2014 sugar cane census, area under cane was 202,304 ha or 499,904 acres with a productivity of 60.54 tonnes per ha. In Galana you can plant cane on half of this acreage of about 250,000 acres (101,171 ha) and obtain up to 120 tones per ha using irrigation which would yield up to 12.1 million tones of cane which would translate to 1.09 million tones of sugar assuming a sugar recovery rate of 9%.
This is more than our current domestic consumption. Kenya would become a sugar surplus country when you add production in the Western sugar belt. That is one crop in just 25% of the scheme. The over one billion kgs of sugar at KShs 80 per kg would be worth about KShs 80 Billion.
You only need to grow maize on 200,000 acres and with an output of 40 bags per acre this would amount to 8 million bags which are enough to fill current and future gap. Government says it can deliver 2kg packet of Unga at KShs 75 ex-factory from the farm. This would go a long way in lowering the cost of food given the place of maize as a staple. The country would once again turn into a maize surplus country.
The scheme requires huge investment in water. The High Grand Falls Dam whose cost is estimated at KShs 150 Billion is what will make the Galana-Kulalu project viable. This project should be fast-tracked. We have no luxury to wait for the six years projected completion duration.
The Aswan High Dam in Egypt supports irrigation in over one million acres. Therefore this is something which is doable and would not only ensure food security but create thousands of jobs and hundreds of thousands of quality settlement. This is a project whose contribution to the GDP would be clear to all.
This project will also make the Lamu Port more viable as production from the scheme would be shipped out to the world via the LAPSSET project.