With its large stretches of white coral sandy beaches, Kwale County is a popular tourist destination and a desirable location for holiday homes for the wealthy.
However, for the residents, poverty reigns supreme and unemployment is high. The region faces many challenges, chief amongst them being drought and constant food relief that has become an embodiment of the County.
Located Southwest of Mombasa County with a population of 866, 820, the County is classified as Arid and Semi-Arid (ASAL) area.
Year in year out, the population here has suffered food insecurity. Relief supplies have consistently been the hope for this community.
“I have been farming for more than 10 years, the harvest has mostly been dependent on rains which fail most of the time. It does not matter the size of land one farmed. It could even be five acres but still fail to harvest as little as half a sack of maize. I was in poor health and you would be forgiven to think I was sick,” Pili Omari, a resident of Nyalani village narrates.
But the small village in Kinango constituency is now slowly but steadily changing this narrative.
A drive to the village shows a sharp contrast of the township that was five years ago. Then, it was one whose population was struggling to put food on the table.
But now, there is evident life in the village. More stone and brick houses are under construction, a shift from the common mud structures, an indication of changing economic status.
Pili is one of the 100 farmers in Nyalani practicing agribusiness following a partnership between the M-PESA Foundation and the County Government of Kwale to rehabilitate the dilapidated Nyalani dam at a cost of KES.232million.
“Since we started micro irrigation, there has been a major shift in my economic status and health. I grow vegetables which I use for own consumption and sell the surplus. Right now, I am able to pay school fees for my children,” says the 47 year old mother of five.
The dam was constructed in 1952 by the British Colonial government but challenging climatic conditions and poor maintenance caused it to lose its functionality as a water reservoir. The rehabilitation of the dam in 2014 saw it attain a water storage capacity of approximately 500million liters for irrigation, domestic and livestock use.
“The integrated nature of Nyalani dam is useful in providing water for domestic use, enhancing nutrition to Nyalani people and most importantly bosting agribusiness leading to economic development. It is a part of a wider strategy to improve livelihoods in Kwale County to end the perpetual vulnerability,” says Salim Mvurya, Governor, Kwale County.
“Our vision is to ensure that we have a county that is competitive and can sustain itself and part of sustaining livelihoods is for people to have income. We have a bigger plan for the entire region to put up facilities that can promote micro irrigation programmes,” he says.
The farmers have formed a Nyalani Farmers’ Cooperative Society Limited that links them up to markets.
“We have 170-acre piece of land which the community owns. Every interested member of the community gets a quarter acre of land to farm and currently we have at least 100 farmers participating,” says Chairman of the Nyalani Farmer’s Cooperative Society, Rashid Kitoka.
Silas Langat is an Agricultural Systems Engineer at Farm Concern International, the project implementing partner. He has been working on this project, supporting the technical irrigation requirements of the scheme.
“We want to solarise the scheme. This offers an assurance of a constant and consistent supply of power, reduce operation costs by up to 90 % and increase net return to the farmers,” he says adding that they will set up about 320 solar panels to enable the farmers move from reliance on hydro and backup generator as the power sources.
The M-PESA Foundation has injected an extra KES.12million to solarise the scheme.
John Riungu, Senior Programmes Manager, Agribusiness at Farm Concern International says they have identified various market opportunities for the farmers.
The project has seen 57 acres of land commercialised and under production.
“We are working with 14 informal (open air) and 8 formal markets such as hotels and institutions like prisons department within the Coast region to supply,” he says.
Nyalani is now earning its place as the bread basket of Kwale County. A life changing story is being witnessed in Nyalani, a legacy that the community can look up to as the epitome of possibilities. Where thirst and barren lands were ordinary and familiar occurrences it has now turned to a promise of plenty