Furrows in the Desert


AMIT ELIYAHU Project Director, Furrows in the Desert amit.eliyahu@arava.org

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Furrows in the Desert (FID) is an agricultural development project introducing agriculture in north Turkana. The project builds local capacity in sustainable agriculture in order to create greater food production for food security and the generation of income. FID is a community-participatory joint program of the Arava Institute, the Missionary Community of St. Paul the Apostle (MCSPA, Kenya), and local semi-nomadic communities of north Turkana, Kenya.

In 2010, the Arava Institute was introduced to this project by MCSPA and Brit Olam, to conduct a need assessment study with local communities in north Turkana and put together a project plan. In December 2013 FID successfully completed a 2-year pilot phase and commenced a 3-year implementation phase. The project is currently operating a training center with a demonstration and research farm and a highly experienced team on the ground.

Click here for an updated presentation on the exciting work of Furrows in the Desert.

Turkana is a semi-arid region in Northwestern Kenya, on the border with Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Uganda. It is the largest yet least developed district in the country. Turkana People – a Nilotic Tribe of semi-nomadic pastoralists – still live, for the most part, according to their ancestors’ ancient tradition. Increasing numbers of Turkana and other pastoral communities in East Africa can no longer live off their livestock the way their ancestors used to. Frequent droughts and geopolitical changes have led to diminution of local pastures. As a result there are increasing accounts of malnutrition (mainly among children), disease outbreaks, deaths of livestock, dependency on aid food distributed by international NGO’s, mass migration to urban centers, and tribal conflicts.

A family that can no longer sustain the traditional way of life is “in transition”. The development of sustainable agriculture is an appropriate form of diversification as a means to self subsistence and food security available to the Turkana that are “in transition”. Former attempts by aid organizations to establish an agricultural infrastructure in the area have not produced satisfactory results owing to the harsh environmental conditions, the lack of know-how in developing agriculture in arid land, the difficulty to bring expert agronomists and skilled manpower to the area on a long term basis, the deep cultural gap between the herders’ way of life and farming way of life, and the lack of transportation infrastructure and markets.

In December 2010 the Institute’s experts conducted a needs assessment study lead by MCSPA through the vast area of north Turkana visiting over 15 communities of Turkana People and one community of Daasanach People. With our partnering organizations and communities of Turkana People, the Arava Center for Sustainable Development is working to establish an agricultural infrastructure that brings a positive change to the peoples of the region.

Furrows in the Desert is a long term program combining the continuous activity of MCSPA in North Turkana with Israeli expertise in the field of desert agriculture. The commitment is for a two year pilot stage followed by a three year implementation stage and a supervised follow-up for another five years.

The project aims to (a) introduce agriculture in north Turkana as a means for food production towards food security in the area, and as an income generating activity through the marketing of agricultural products, and (b) to contribute to the local community resilience through achieving self subsistence as a foundation for new empowerment initiatives in the fields of health, education, and further diversification.

The projects objectives are:

  • Demonstrate and train individuals for both subsistence agriculture and market oriented agriculture
  • Operate on both family scale and community (clusters) scale
  • Support the development of agricultural based marketing activities
  • Assure the sustainability of the project in the hands of local management
  • Secure water resources and establish central water distribution systems for the development of farming clusters
  • Encourage an intercultural dialogue between Israeli volunteers, local missionaries, and the people of Turkana

Our achievements to date and targets to end of 2016 are:

  • Established a training farm next to MCSPA missionary center in Lobur demonstrating four types of agricultural models. (Completed July 2013)
  • Completed five, six-month training courses and graduated 79 local Turkana men and women from 31 different communities on 63 new farms in North Turkana.
  • Established a professional team in Turkana, responsible for running the courses and providing ongoing guidance at the graduates’ individual farms.
    • Farm managers: long-term committed Israeli agronomist living on-site.
    • Israeli trainers: alternating teams of Israeli volunteers with agricultural background on a continuous basis and for a long-term stay of four to twelve months.
    • Local Turkana: selected graduates that are suitable and are willing to stay at the training farm and become trainers and project leaders.
  • As of March 2016, an additional 350 Turkana farmers have received in-field training and guidance from our mobile support team.
  • Supporting commercial development, by end of 2016. This support will involve:
    • Developing a credit system to allow farmers access to agricultural inputs
    • Facilitating access to local marketing avenues
    • Handing over the central training and demonstration farm to local management run by local trainers in agriculture
    • Facilitating local farming agreements to form farming clusters with a capacity to maintain a centralized water distribution system
  • Emalaikat Foundation (Spain)
  • New Ways Charity (UK)
  • ROTARY International through an initiative of ROTARY Israel
  • Israeli Foreign Office through MASHAV and the Israeli ambassador to Kenya
  • KKL-JNF (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – Jewish National Fund)
  • DKA Austria on behalf of the Catholic Children Movement of Austria
  • Government of Kenya through the office of the Prime Minister

Amit Eliyahu

Community Development
Director, Furrows in the Desert agricultural development project