Abstract: The evolution of irrigation farming in Kenya, traceable up to 400 years back is observed to have played an important role initially as a way of increasing food supply and more recently as a tool in the intensification and expansion of arable land. Irrigation development in independent Kenya falls into five categories: public large scale, government-promoted smallholder, NGO-assisted small-scale projects, large-scale commercial farms, and traditional systems. Public large scale schemes are under the National Irrigation Board (NIB). The NIB is responsible for planning, implementation, water management, mechanized cultivation, and procurement of inputs and marketing in all the public irrigation schemes i.e. Mwea, Hola, Perkerra, Ahero, West Kano and Bunyala.
This study set out to investigate the role of irrigation farming on food self-sufficiency. Literature indicates that smallholder irrigation projects target food crops while more recent government managed schemes prefer cash crops. In addition to the shift in crop preference, irrigation schemes are also now threatened with under performance. The study had to sub-population. The 390 registered tenant farmers in the scheme from the core population, while the villages in the surrounding areas make up the control group. Questionnaire and interviews were used in order to collect data. Data collected has been analyzed using both descriptive and inferential statistics.
Based on findings of two populations, this study found that while irrigation farming has raised the standard of living for tenant farmers, relative to their counterparts outside the scheme, the formers (like the latter), are yet to be food self-sufficient. However, the fact that irrigation is not new to farmers in Marigat suggests that a lot more is achievable. Indeed, the success of the scheme could be enhanced if traditional management structures were incorporated into the current system. This study has also shown that farmers engaged in irrigation farming are better off than their counterparts, who are currently relying on rain-fed agriculture. It has thus been observed that to some extent, irrigation farming has comparatively improved the living standards of rural farmers. However, in terms of actual achievements, farmers on the Perkerra Irrigation Scheme could do better. It is obvious that they are yet to be self-sufficient in food production and their current cash crop incomes cannot guarantee them food security, in terms of ability to purchase.
It thus recommended that farmers be enabled to grow food crops on a similar acreage and frequency as other crops, but on alternating basis. This could be enhanced by diversifying food crops to include major drought resistant varieties.
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