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Working Paper 58 - A Review Paper on Large scale Irrigation in Kenya: A Case Study of Maize


Policy makers and development experts believe that irrigation is the panacea to frequent drought related crop failure and to meet the demand for cheap and stable food supply in Kenya. The country has experienced heavy crop losses associated with drought in the years 1980, 1984, 2000, 2008, 2009, and 2011(WFP, 2011). Since 2009, the government set out to reduce reliance on rain-fed production by investing KES12.5 billion into rehabilitation of irrigation schemes in the country. This report reviews existing literature on irrigation in the World and provides views by experts on the potential for irrigation and its major challenges. The review considers policy on irrigation and the past investments to elicit lessons which could inform research for new policy on irrigation in Kenya. The findings show that local experience with irrigation development in most public irrigation schemes is bad. The UN advises caution on large-scale irrigation in pastoral areas which could cause significant environmental degradation and low economic returns despite heavy subsidies, while undermining the pastoral economy. Avery (2013) argues that irrigation in semi-arid areas will be challenged by high solar radiation and temperatures, and dry winds that desiccate soils and crops. Experts have raised many questions in literature reviewed which include; what is the nutritional quality of irrigated crops not have been bred in semi-arid areas? How are local markets (supply and demand) going to be affected by the increase in supply of maize? What criteria will the government use to allocate water? What will be the impact of irrigation on the river ecology (hydrology, onsite soils, water tables, water logging, salinization, sodication, nitration, wildlife, micro-organisms, pests and diseases, genetic diversity, etc)? What will be the social and political impact of an influx of workers from other ethnic groups into the regions being developed for irrigation? What is the ex-ante economic surplus of the project? What is the opportunity cost of maize irrigation compared to alternative livelihoods like pastoralism? What is the policy on land and water use rights for investors, stakeholders and minority ethnic groups especially the Watta, Orma and Giriama living in Galana/Kulalu? What will be the effect of large-scale irrigated maize production on the market considering its potential effect on maize producing regions in Western Kenya?

Key words: Irrigation, Arid Areas, Markets, Property rights, Environment, Policy


Working Paper 58 - A Review Paper on Large scale Irrigation in Kenya: A Case Study of Maize




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