A Participatory Rural Appraisal - Wei Wei Integrated Development Project, Sigor, West Pokot, Kenya

In order to provide for the sustainability of the successful irrigation development intervention in Kenya, the Participatory Rural Appraisal was created to develop a set of rules providing the legal basis of a Farmer's Association in West Pokot. The full appraisal is a 150 page document which can be downloaded and viewed by clicking here.

There are 8 parts to the Appraisal, and the Executive Summary is posted below.

Part I - Introduction

Part II - The Project Context

Part III - Community Organization of Time and Space

Part IV - The Division of Labour

Part V - The Division of Ownership

Part VI - Participatory Evaluation

Part VII - Technical Interventions, Scope, Problems and Prospects

Part VIII - Project Problems and Recommendations

Executive Summary

The Wei Wei Integrated Development Project is a successful irrigation development intervention that has raised the food security of local people dramatically. In order to provide for the sustainability of this project the consultant was asked to do a Participatory Rural Appraisal of the project and with the farmers to develop a set of rules that would provide the legal basis of a Farmer's Association.

This association is structured in keeping with the demands of the market and the needs of the local people. This document then begins with the initial rules for the Farmer's Association as given to the consultant continues with an analysis of the community and the project and ends with the revised of the Farmer's Association as worked out with them.

West Pokot is a semi arid district of northern Kenya broken by a number of wet and wooded mountain ranges, some of which are the sources of rivers that run through the district. The Wei Wei river is one of them. It is home to the Pokot who are divided into pastoral and agricultural sections.

In response to a series of periodic droughts that cause famine in Kenya's northern districts the Kenyan Government asked the Italian government for technical assistance to improve food security in West Pokot.

Lodagri was the Italian company asked to design and implement the project. The engineers and agronomists that made up the team decided to work with a community of Pokot farmers who over the centuries have developed a traditional, gravity fed irrigation system.

The team built an intake, upstream in the Wei Wei river valley, and from which pipes were laid, so that farmers could make use of a gravity fed, overhead sprinkler system which has allowed them to reap two harvests each year regardless of the amount of rain. More than one hundred families have access to plots in the new scheme.

These plots provide for the basic food needs of the farmers. They also allow them to grow seed crops which are sold to seed companies for cash and which in the future could cover the inputs and administration of the project without the financial assistance of the Italian government or the Kerio Valley Development Authority (K.V.D.A.).

The Pokot are proud, highland Nilotes who have lived in the area now called West Pokot for a number of centuries. The `target community' of the Wei Wei Integrated Development project are a group of Pokot farmers who live in the Wei Wei valley. They practise a multi resource using strategy that includes a form of swidden cultivation (slash and burn) and are distinguished from the other more pastoral Pokot who live on the open plains to the north and east of them. However, both groups consider themselves Pokot. They intermarry and do not raid each other.

The project target community is an organic whole that does not violate the indigenous social classification of the Pokot farmers of the Wei Wei valley. Thus families, lineages, clans and territorial sections all consider themselves part of one community that they call,`Kurut'.

The Kurut is divided into two divisions, the people of Machon and the people of Tokoch. These two divisions correspond to farming and water rights with special regards to the two main branches of the local canal. For the most part, the people of Tokoch irrigate their farms from one branch of the canal while those of Machon do so from the other branch. Likewise, about every two years, each group is responsible for cleaning their part of the canal.

Pokot social organization is complicated. It comprises a number of different systems; the age sets, patrikin, matrikin, a special relationship with uncles, sub clans and clans as well as territorial sections called korok.

The korok is the most important social division in the context of the Wei Wei Integrated Development Project. A korok is a cluster of households made up of members from a variety of clans. Within each korok one clan is more numerous than all the others but rarely constitutes a majority. They have common interests and share much labour. Since the project has organized farming groups as blocks farmers pointed out that this was similar to their traditional `korok' and that could be used as a basis for representation in the farmer's association.

The above mentioned systems have different functions and overlapping jurisdictions within the traditional system of tenure. However, any conflict that may arise among individuals is judged by a local council of elders who decide where and when one system of rights and obligations takes precedent over another.

Such councils also provided farmers with prototypes for the executive, legislative and judicial functions of their new association.

The results of these varied and interacting social systems ends up by leaving men in one place where their sons inherit land while daughters marry out, thus insuring that distant communities are linked through women, and thus inter korok conflict is reduced to a minimum.

The Kurut Pokot still use indigenous systems to classify time and space. These systems structure most of their activities and link their social organization to the manner in which they use the natural resources of the valley.

Kurut Pokot classify the land that they live in into four regions; masop or highland, kamas or `midland', tamka or plain and finally lalwa, or the riverine area. Pokot elders can name and describe the multiple uses of the many wild and domestic plants and animals of each section. They are also aware of changes in the balance of plants, animals and people over the last few decades.

The Masop or highland is that part of the steep hillside on either side of the Wei Wei river and which reaches from the top of the hills halfway down the slope, which is the border with the kamas or midlands. The Masop is good for grazing domestic stock and is also used to grow maize. Irrigation of these plots is rare and their success depends on rain. Farmers do not plant the same plot two seasons in a row. Also, ownership of these plots is not strict and they are not inherited from father to son. They form basically one dimension of a wider system of natural resource management and whose `usufruct' is usually given to the residents of the territorial section whose houses are near these steep slopes.

The Kamas begins midway down the mountainside and ends abruptly where the slope of the mountain or hill rises from the plain. It is the place where most of the settlements which form the divisions of the Kurut are spread on either side of the river in a north/south direction. Here is where most domestic life is focused.

It is the place where most semi permanent dwellings are clustered, where surplus food is stored and where domestic animals are kept each night. This area is sufficiently close to the lowland farming areas to give residents quick and easy access to their plots yet it is far enough away from the mosquito infested riverine forest to prevent constant infection by malaria.

The tamka or plain consists of two parts. The first is that flat area near the river and which can be irrigated from the canals. Here there are plots which average about half an acre and where Pokot do most of their farming. The farming areas are named according to the subsidiary canals. Pokot elders often own up to fifteen plots. However, they are never in one area in order to spread their risks and to benefit from microecological differences.

The plots are inherited from father to son and the quantity of plots being inherited between the generations is declining rapidly. In a few short years there will be land shortages and

and much strife among siblings for access to local farms.

The declining inheritance of wealth ranked families can be seen in the appendices.

Lalwa or river is the source of all irrigation water since

the canals draw off water from the river in order to water the farms. It is also the source of all drinking water and where most domestic livestock drink from while out grazing. The riverine forest which lines the river itself is an area where much wildlife congregate at night to drink. The Pokot until recently hunted a wide variety of ungulates who came there at night to drink.

The key points about these four ecological regions and their relation to the Kurut Pokot are first of all that the Pokot are not just farmers but gain their food through highland rainfed agriculture, lowland irrigation agriculture, hunting, the gathering of wild fruits throughout all four areas, the cultivation of honey hives at points up and down the mountain sides, the herding of livestock for meat and milk and the hunting of wild animals. The second related point is, when due to drought and the agricultural system breaks down the Pokot revert to a hunter/gatherer mode of life whereby they rely on everything but agriculture to sustain them until the rains return.

The Pokot classify time with indigenous divisions of the twenty four hour cycle, a seven day week and what appears to have become a twelve month year that is said to begin in February. As with other Nilotic groups living in East Africa, their yearly cycle is more or less a description of the agricultural cycle.

For example October is called Chepsut, from the verb chepsut which means clearing the grasses that grow on the edges of the canal and that must be cleared if irrigation is to run smoothly.

The Pokot also classify groups of years, about seven or eight on the average and which correspond with circumcision groups of young males. Once a Pokot is circumcised he is no longer a boy, regardless of whether he be twelve or eighteen at the time of the initiation. These circumcision sets are then made part of an age grade.

All Pokot men in the Kurut belong to an age grade. The importance of this system is that senior age grades take precedence and authority over junior age grades. Thus when decisions must be made over who gets water for irrigation, or fines and compensation for not helping in communal work, judgements are usually made by a small group of experienced elders of the most senior age sets. Again this concept of `seniority' allowed the Pokot elders to design rules for their farmer's association where representatives are empowered to make decisions for other korok members.

Thus there is a strong gerontocratic dimension to Pokot life that permeates all decision making in Pokot society. This makes elders sceptical of innovations and has so far prevented better educated and more innovative members of the community of having a positive influence on the project so far.

However Pokot gerontocracy is slowly being offset by the growth of Sigor and other towns like it. These small towns act as government administrative centres as well as the sites of weekly markets, where a local class of Pokot entrepreneurs are establishing themselves. It is also where the local secondary school is located. As more and more farmers send their children to school it is most likely that a new interest group, the school leavers, will become an innovating force in Pokot society in the years to come. When discussing this phenomena with farmers they realized that the school leavers if used wisely could give them much assistance.

Pokot make use of a wide variety of domesticates in their irrigated and unirrigated farms. During the dry season they must clear the farm, burn the detritus and dig up the soil. When the rains begin they plant. This is followed by kapping, weeding, irrigation, second weeding, second irrigation, the cutting of grass, day and night guarding of the farm, cutting again, harvesting and finally separating and storing the food in the storage huts beside the houses in the kamas.

During the drier parts of the year irrigation is the key to farming success. The right to open a canal that irrigates a farm area is held by the local council of elders called the kokwa. In order to receive permission to water a farm the applicant must make a formal request at the council. This is followed up by independent committees of investigation, a ranking of the water needs of various plots, followed by a judgement of who is to be served first.

Those who receive permission irrigate either by day or by night. Daytime irrigation involves preparing the farm for the reception of the water through the use of the `tiwut' system of water direction. It also involves clearing the subsidiary canal,

letting in the water in front of competent witnesses and monitoring the spread of the water across the farm plot.

Night irrigation follows a similar pattern but often takes more time.

The canal is maintained every two years. The main entrance to the canal is closed off. Kokwa meetings are held to organize the work groups. The division of labour is organized according to household and age set by the two communities who each have their own branch of the canal. Those who do not show up and do not contribute sufficient labour are fined.

Although agriculture is the normative mainstay of the community, herding and hunting are important aspects of food security and the spreading of risks across different food producing systems.

Every household has goats and sheep. Some of the wealthier households have cattle. They are usually herded near the farms by young boys and return home each evening. They do not roam across wide distances like their neighbours on the plain, yet they provide a fair amount of daily milk for each farming household.

The amount of animals that the pastoral Pokot have is much larger than these agriculturalists, yet the desire for livestock may stem from these farmers proximity to or among the pastoral Pokot of the plain. For example, all brideprice payments are made through exchanges of livestock. This means that no man can marry without giving a fair amount of domestic animals to his in laws.

Until recently Pokot have hunted during the day and night. Day hunting usually takes place on the plain while night hunting is carried out along the riverine forest. The principles of the division of the meat are very similar to the way water is divided up. Regardless of who killed the animal most meat is shared out equally among all those who participated in the hunt, with some prejudice in favour of elders from the oldest age sets.

One section of this document gives a fairly detailed account of the lifestyle and opinions of a group of typical elder and recipient of a project plot. It is clear that they have little to no understanding of how the Kenyan state works, how the national market works, and finally why it is that the project expects participants to work in light of the fact that there are many international organizations in the area who make a custom of giving out food for free.

While the project technicians are around they and their families will cooperate with them. However, unless better organized when they are gone these elders, typical project members, will not yet have the skills to help make the new farming scheme sustainable.

The Lodagri/K.V.D.A. development intervention, called the Wei Wei Integrated Development Project, has taken land from within the Kurut and built an overhead sprinkler irrigation system that provides one hundred and five Pokot families with abundant food to eat and with seed crops that are sold on the open market.

The sale of these seed crops have provided local farmers with profits similar to those farmers in the well watered areas of Mount Kenya, a dramatic improvement in local food security.

The project has a team of technical advisors from Lodagri and K.V.D.A. The plots and their management, as well as the marketing of the crop, are supervised by this team.

Support facilities include a nursery, experimental orchard, a meteorological station, a special Joint Management Scheme farm run by K.V.D.A. and Lodagri (which has shown continuous profits since the project began) storage facilities, a mechanic, workshop, tractors, trucks and drivers, offices and a well tended living compound for senior project staff.

There are certain similarities and differences between the traditional Pokot system and the modern system. For example in the traditional system water is a scarce resource whereas in the modern it is almost unlimited and available at all times. In the traditional system land is regulated by custom whereas in the modern system there is not yet ownership of the project plots and inheritance is an unknown factor. Likewise, traditionally most inputs are local whereas in the new plots they are bought.

The farming cycle is determined by the climate while the choice of crops is determined by the demands of the market.

The cycle normally follows a series of set stages: canvasing the buyers, preparing the land, sowing and planting, herbicide application, irrigation, spot weeding, fertilizer, scouting, chemical control of pests, irrigation through the use of overhead sprinklers, harvesting, threshing, packing of the produce in bags, weighing, delivering and then decision making as for cropping patterns for the next season in response to the demands and needs of the buyers.

The participation of traditional farmers in this modern irrigation scheme has depended on intensive work by the project team and their extensionists. Studies of the first twenty farmers, those with the longest experience of the project, have shown that participation is inconsistent. Some farmers started off doing well and then lost interest. Others took a long time to show interest and now work hard.

All of them have difficulties in understanding national market fluctuations and find it difficult to save because of the pressures and demands of the extended family. Because most project members are in their fifties, the better educated younger members of the community have little say or influence because of the gerontocratic nature of the Pokot society.

Thus in the final farmer's association rules there are positions for farmers, monitors and young project trainees to make up for these differences and to provide for consultation and information at all levels.

The farmers do not yet have land titles for their plots. If the project becomes viable then there are likely to be growing disputes over inheritance by the sons of those elders who have received plots. However once collective land tenure is guaranteed by the state the Farmer's Association can then provide the framework for management of the system.

The Farmer's Association will be made of members of all farming blocks modeled on the korok. Each block will elect representatives to serve on a council. This council will have specific voting rights and include younger literate members of the community who can be trained in the technicalities of farm management and marketing. The rules are their to make rules in keeping with Pokot traditional decision making practises.

Once done the farmer's will then have the framework to engage with the private sector so that profits and project infrastructure can be maintained.

Click here to view and download the full Participatory Rural Appraisal

© 2020 by Geoffrey Clarfield