The Galana-Kulalu irrigation project and food security scheme was unveiled in 2014 as a one-million-acre model farm. The irrigated farm and accompanying projects were to provide food security for Kenya and lead to marked increases in agricultural exports. The amount of maize produced would lead to a drop in prices of a 2kg bag of maize flour from its current KES 100 to approximately KES 84.

The Project
The Galana-Kulalu irrigation project and food security scheme was unveiled in 2014 as a one-million-acre model farm. The irrigated farm and accompanying projects were to provide food security for Kenya and lead to marked increases in agricultural exports. The amount of maize produced would lead to a drop in prices of a 2kg bag of maize flour from its current KES 100 to approximately KES 84. Other agricultural products were also projected to drop, because of their relative abundance and the projected production amounts at Galana-Kulalu. Added to this, the irrigation scheme was to generate hundreds of jobs. However, a disappointing, first harvest that was well below expectations,coupled with a massive increase in current and projected costs,has led some to question the efficacy of the project. It has also led to the downsizing of this once grand scheme that held so much promise.

Maize, sugarcane, beef and flowers

The original plans called for the development of a green oasis located in Kilifi and Tana River counties and producing food for millions. Plans initially called for 10,000 of the Galana-Kulalu farm’s acres to be under cultivation by 2017. Assessments reportedly indicated the farm would eventually produce over 40 million bags of maize, thereby doubling Kenya’s current maize growing capacity.  Along with 500,000 acres of land under maize production, the project planned to cultivate 200,000 acres of sugarcane, devote 150,000 acres to beef and game animals, 50,000 acres to horticulture, 50,000 acres to dairy farming and the remaining 50,000 acres to fruit growing.

In an effort to avoid food shortages and ensure food security for Kenya, KES 15 billion (approx. USD 146 million) was allocated to irrigation projects and land cultivation schemes in Kenya’s 2015/2016 fiscal year budget. KES 10.3 billion (approx. USD 101 million) was earmarked to finance 114 irrigation projects during this timeframe. The remaining KES 3.5 billion (approx. USD 34 million) was set aside to finance the Galana/Kulalu irrigation project and food security scheme.

Kenya currently has seven, additional, large-scale irrigation schemes in progress, including the Mwea, Bura, West Kano, Perkerra, Tana, Bunyala and Ahero irrigation schemes. According to Kenya’s government, the country’s irrigation potential stands at 1.3 million hectares. To date, only 12 per cent, or 162,000 hectares,has been exploited.

Israeli Expertise

In order to get the Galana-Kulalu project off the ground, certain investors and agricultural experts were named who were to cooperate with the Kenyan government to implement the project. These experts and investors included Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation (known by its Hebrew acronym MASHAV) -which acts through the Centre for International Agricultural Development Cooperation (CINADCO) – its main professional affiliate for agricultural and rural development. The Centre is part of Israel’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. Also named was the Israeli company, Green Arava. According to MASHAV’s website, Green Arava specializes in the design and implementation of turnkey agricultural projects worldwide.Israel’s success in producing agricultural miracles in arid and semi-arid locations is well-known and recognized internationally.

The Galana-Kulaludeal was signed between the Kenyan government, through the National Irrigation Board (NIB), and Green Arava in mid-2014. According to reports at the time, the total cost of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme was estimated at KES 260 billion. The initial, model project would cost USD 165 million, with the Kenyan government setting aside USD 40 million while the Israeli partnersagreed to provide the remaining USD 125 million. The model project was to pave the way for full implementation of the entire Galan-Kulaluproject.

First Harvest

In October 2015, the10,000-acre model farm produced its first harvest: approximately ten bags of maize, per acre instead of the estimated 40 bags of maize, per acre. The paltry harvest led various members of parliament (MPs) to question the viability and usefulness of the entire project. But even before the first harvest, a group of consultants hired by the Kenyan government stated that the project’s cost may reach more than KES 1.45 trillion (approx. USD 142 billion)- if and when the targeted one million acres are irrigated. According to some reports, the harvest that saw only ten, 90 kg bags of maize produced reportedly consumed KES 14.5 billion (approx. USD 142 million) in the process.

Cabinet Secretary for Water and Irrigation, Eugene Wamalwa attempted to explain what appeared to be a poor, first harvest by highlighting that the model farm had been planted with 13 varieties of maize on a 5,000-acre piece of land at Galana-Kulalu. This was done in order to determine which varieties of maize would produce the best maize yields.  Wamalwa claimed that over 8,000, 90kg bags of maize were harvested and had been stored at the National Cereal Board depot. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation, acting in concert with the National Irrigation Board (NIB), had also identified six types of maize of optimum quality for future planting. This was reportedly based on the number of bags and the quality of maize harvested during the first harvest.

The Role of the National Irrigation Board (NIB)

Under the orders of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Kenya’s NIB is in charge of implementing food security schemes across the country. The NIB reportedly engaged a consortium of consultants composed of Agri-Green Consulting Ltd. (Israel), Environplan(Greece) and Management Consultants Ltd. (Kenya) and Amiran (K) Ltd. (Kenya) to carry out a pre-feasibility study and plan the project.Yet reports indicate that another pre-feasibility study had already been carried out by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute at the cost of KES 32 million. This feasibility study was reportedly disregarded by NIB, which engagedAgri-Green and the other companies listed above to conduct another study for the viability of the one million-acre irrigation project.

The NIB website has a webpage devoted to the progress of the Galana-Kulalu Food Security Project, noting that a pre-feasibility study (the study’s source is unspecified) showed that soils have been qualified to be suitable for irrigated agriculture. Added to this, the 1.78-million-acre ranch/farm was strategically located between theGalana and Tana Rivers, which were to supply an“adequate flow”of irrigation water.The NIB webpage also noted the following challenges facing the project:

1. Insecurity, to include the presence of armed groups in the region, human-wildlife conflict and poaching activities
2. Poor road networks
3. Inadequate financing
4. Lack of basic amenities such as electricity, portable water, health services

Irrigation Projects need Water

What may have gone undetected by NIB and the pre-feasibility studies is the availability of water, or lack thereof, in this semi-arid region. Reports now indicate that abundant, reliable sources of water may either be unavailable or very expensive to pump. Although the diversion of water from the Tana River would irrigate another 469,000 acres, experts have argued that the distance to the Galana-Kaluluproject and the topography it would need to cross would result in enormous water flow in both canals and pipes. Furthermore, pumping huge volumes of water through 2m diameter pipes is capital-intensive, as costs for pumps, steel pipes, reservoirs and running costs of pumping are high. Added to this, NIB recently announced the tender for the second phase of the Galana-Kulaluproject that will see a firm contracted for the construction of dams, staff housing and an electric fence.

These challenges have massive cost implications and represent major engineering challenges – especially the construction of the needed 2m diameter steel pipes for distances greater than 250km over difficult terrain. Studies now show that that the area designated for dam construction at the Galana-Kulalu project is unsuitable since it is impossible to utilise gravity flow, thus resulting in very high pumping costs. According to one report, the estimated annual pumping requirement is 492 million kW, with pump capacity ranging from 6,700kW to 13,000kW, resulting in a pumping cost of KES 6.2 billion, per year.

Current and Future Challenges for the Project
Based on concerns about cost overruns, tender awards and procurement issues, CS Wamalwa announced in January 2016 that the government would slash the budget for the Galana-Kulalu irrigation project in half. According to Wamalwa, the Galana-Kulalu project will be implemented for KES 7.2 billion rather than the projected KES 14 billion.Wamalwa added that an inter-ministerial task force had reviewed the project details and cut what was deemed non-essential from the irrigation project. Among the items cut was the construction of a milling plant that, according to Wamalwa, will now be done by the private sector.

These announcements came after the National Assembly Agriculture Committee is called for the outright suspension of the project. They also directed the Auditor General, Edward Ouko, to immediately conduct a special forensic audit and ordered the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) to investigate the procurement of the KES 14.5 billion irrigation project with a view of holding individuals at the Ministry of Agriculture and the National Irrigation Board (NIB) accountable.

Based on the current reassessments and budget slashing, the future of the Galana-Kulalu irrigation scheme is uncertain.  The production of more food is urgently needed in Kenya. Boosting maize and other food crop production should be a priority for multiple ministries and the NIB. CS Wamalwa aptly noted during his review of the project that “Galana has the potential to make Kenya food secure and propel the nation to being a net exporter of maize and other food crops. The 2015 Economist Intelligence Unit’s Global Food Security Index ranks Kenya 83rd globally and 9th in Sub-Saharan Africa. As a country, we can do much better.”


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