Furrows in the Desert- 2010-2019
Furrows in the Desert (FID) is an agricultural development program based on Israeli expertise in desert agriculture and designed for the Turkana region in north-east Kenya. The program introduces desert agriculture to the area as a source of food production and a means to generate income. Its aim is to reduce poverty in the region and to assist the population in regaining their economic independence.
Our Goal is to train local people in agriculture and supports them in their first steps as new farmers. The program includes a 6-month hands-on training period in a central farm. The trainees study the various stages of growing crops and the practices appropriate for local conditions. After completing their training, the graduates establish their own family plots, and receive agricultural inputs (seeds, tools, irrigation systems, fertilizers, etc.), in-field guidance and assistance in marketing their agricultural products.
In its second stage, the program establishes community scale plantations along big water reservoirs (mainly Lake Turkana). These plantations provide hundreds of jobs for local residents and aim to attract investors from abroad, which can have a far-reaching influence on the district economy.
FID promotes agricultural methods appropriate for the area, based on 4 agricultural models:
- Family scale to a community cluster scale of several plots sharing a central water infrastructure
- Growing in open field with or without a net-house over a growing area of 500-750m2 per farming unit
- Gravity fed Family Drip irrigation Systems (FDS)
- Crop selection according to:
- nutritional value
- suitability to the local climate, soil and water properties
- water availability
- marketing potential (transportability properties and economical parameters)
Plant growing plan:
- 4 crops a year out of 5 plant groups in 2 cycles
- Legume: soy beans, peanuts, chickpeas, green gram, cowpeas
- Solanaceae: tomatoes, eggplant, chilli
- Cucurbitaceae: water melons, melons
- Allium: onion, garlic
- Others: sorghum, corn, okra, spinach, kale, beetroot
- Selected varieties of fruit trees
Seed and product protection:
- Double container system for keeping seeds for next season planting or for sale when prices are high when a product is out of season
- Produce low level processed products:
– sealed clay pots for later consumption such as cooked okra or chickpeas in tomato juice covered by a thin layer of oil
– Dry products such as tomatoes and chilli
- Cultivation of crops based on diversion of seasonal runoff water to an area enclosed by low retention walls
- To be used for:
– Fodder: animal feed
– Fruit trees: such as pomegranates, almonds, and olives adapted to arid conditions
- This method requires relatively small investment in infrastructure and maintenance and is suitable for implementation along many of the dry rivers cutting through the plains of North Turkana
- While full with water the earth pan will support adjacent plots growing short-duration crops
- When the water in the earth pan will reside, rain-fed crop types will be planted inside the earth pan, utilizing the water absorbed by the soil
- Production of vegetables, fruit and grain (sorghum, millet etc.) is expected to be supported for a duration of 9 months
- Utilizing the alkali water of Lake Turkana for this water intensive model
- Dates will be intercropped by annual crops in order to provide income from the first year onward
- Propagation of offshoots from the third year after planting will support future date plantations and be a source of income in addition to the dates
- Date crops are expected from the fifth year
- Other saline/alkaline-water resisting crops will be intercropped such as pomegranates or sapota with fodder like sudan grass
The program also trains local instructors to become part of the program staff (training the trainers), and spread agricultural knowledge in the area through additional activities:
- The training graduates train local people as assistants for their family plots.
- The volunteers will run educational activities in the fields of agriculture and nutrition in local mother & child centers.
FID has gained the approval of the Kenyan government and the support of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs through MASHAV – Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation, and the Israeli embassy in Kenya.
FID is developed and operated jointly by Brit Olam and two other organizations:
Missionary Community of Saint Paul the Apostle (MCSPA): an International Catholic humanitarian NGO which has been based and active in Turkana since 1987 in the fields of water, agricultural, health and education infrastructures.
Arava Center for Sustainable Development (ACSD)– part of Arava Institute for environmental Studies, an Israeli research center specializing in water resources management, sustainable agriculture, agriculture under desert conditions and renewable energy.
Water infrastructure installed by MCSPA in Turkana
Exapmles of what we grow:
Types of crops seeded & planted
Onion (nursery) cowpea (direct seeding)
Kale, okra, swisschard
Onion, okra, swisschard
Tomatoes (nursery), okra (direct seeding)
Okra, cowpea, squash, melon, kale
Tomatoes, kale, green pepper (nursery); Melon & swisschard (direct seeding)
Traditionally the Turkana way of life evolves around their livestock for nutritional and cultural needs
They grow camels, goats, zebus and donkeys
For food they rely on their animals for milk, meat and blood. Occasionally they would gather wild fruits, hunt wild animals and gather honey. Often, they would trade with neighbouring tribes for maize, beans and a very limited variety of vegetables and grains.
If a family lost their livestock it would arm itself and raid a neighbouring tribe to restock.
The Turkana share the same origin and language with the Karamojong tribe of Uganda, and the Toposa and Nyangatom tribes of South Sudan.
The main adversaries of the Turkana People over grazing territory and water resources in north Turkana are the Daasanach (Merille) People of Ethiopia who speak a Cushitic language and share a similar way of life.
A family that can no longer sustain the traditional way of life is “in transition”.|
Without a viable alternative they may raid other tribes for restocking of livestock or collapse into complete dependency on aid food.
Diversification for the Turkana People is to have an alternative way of life that can be a mean to self-subsistence and provide the family with food security.
In the past decade commercial fishing on Lake Turkana became such a viable alternative way of life to many who were forced to settle and abandon the nomadic life.
We believe that the development of sustainable agricultural is the next form of diversification available to the Turkana People that are “in transition”.
Turkana is a semi-arid district in north-west Kenya, populated by the Turkana tribe, nomadic pastoralists. To date, due to climatic, demographic and geopolitical changes, Turkana population can no longer live off traditional pastoralism. The rising frequency of droughts in the area results in the destruction of the livestock, on which their livelihood depends. These conditions lead to malnutrition, starvation and death, especially among children, as well as diseases, conflicts with the neighboring tribes and dependency on international aid organizations.
The target area of FID is north-east Turkana, which is populated by approximately 140,000 people, about half of them children and youth. Until the beginning of the program, traditional pastoralism has been the only means of food production in this area. During the years of its activity in North Turkana, MCSPA has developed a network of water sources: rock dams and water pans, deep wells and wind-pumps, source protection and elevated tanks for irrigation. This infrastructure serves as a foundation or FID agricultural program.
Area of Turkana: 77,000 km2
Area targeted: 20,000 km2
Population: 850,000 (Turkana, estimate); 140,000 (north Turkana, estimate)
100-400mm/y (low land – elevated land)
(non drought year) 2 short rainy seasons
Typically flash floods lost in runoff
Poor- underground & Lake Turkana: pH 8-9, EC: 2.5-3.5 dS/m
Good- surface runoff: pH: 7.8, EC: 0.9 dS/m (Natoo rockdam)
Poor- 40% sand, 30% silt, 30% clay (Montmorillonite), pH 8-9
Good- floating seedbeds: 2:1 ratio dry-river-sand:compost
- High survival stress
- Dependency on aid food
- Migration to urban slums
- Increasing tribal conflicts
- Population in transition from traditional life