Dense thorny thickets of invasive Prosopis juliflora weed characterise the extensive fields near River Turkwel at Katilu in Turkana South Sub County.
The shrub, which grows up to 15-metres high, has a thick, rough grey-green bark that gets scaly as the plant matures.
The plant, which has large, sharp thorns, reproduces through seed, often once they have passed through the digestive tracts of goats, camels, cattle, and some wild herbivores, before the seed is spread through watercourses and run-off areas during rain.
It is this thorny plant that now stands as a painful testament to the killing fields on the border of Turkana and West Pokot counties, where lives were lost, livestock stolen, and residents forced to flee as a result of incessant armed conflicts between the two communities.
“Warriors and police reservists from Turkana would occasionally engage armed thieves from the neighbouring community at these fields before they could either cross River Turkwel with stolen livestock or retreat when defeated,” recalled Ms Zipporah Emoni, a local.
In the past three years, however, the area has experienced relative peace after a successful disarmament.
But while this thorny shrub reminds the locals here of the past and what used to be, another set of plants tells them what the future holds.
Ms Emoni and 19 other locals, all victims of bandit attacks, have formed the Green Angels Farm Group with a vision of transforming the once-battlefield into a productive farm.
“Since February last year when we formed the group, we have cleared 10 acres through irrigation. We have planted various crops that include watermelon, capsicum, pawpaw, groundnuts, spider plant, amaranth and black night shade (managu),” Ms Emoni explained.
As the chairperson of the group, Ms Emoni said frequent droughts and lack of livestock had been exposing them to hunger and starvation with unreliable relief food distribution from the government and humanitarian agencies every time conflict flared up.
The group is determined to provide a reliable source of fresh food and income, a scenario they hope will save the region from incessant conflicts.
The group’s determination has offered members a reliable supply of fresh food and a steady income.
Watermelons have already earned them Sh120,000 after they sold them at Sh50 a kilogramme to hotels in Lokichar and Lodwar towns.
The group decided to reinvest the income in the farm by buying more high-value crops, outsourcing labour to clear more land, as well as buying pesticides and fuel for their generator that pumps water from the river.
Mr Vincent Bulinda, a member whom we found harvesting groundnuts, said that being the first time they are venturing into the kind of farming, the returns were already promising.
He said since they started farming, the soil has maintained high fertility levels and they have never thought of using fertiliser.
“We, however, need support from development partners and the government so that we have a reliable supply of water to our farm. Due to high temperatures, the soil doesn’t hold water for long and it has been a challenge for us to sustainably pump water throughout with our generator because of cost,” he said.
There is a high demand for fresh food in Turkana as many towns are still relying on Kitale and Kapenguria for fresh farm produce, he explained.
Africare, through the Improved Approach to Community-based Nutrition in Turkana (Impact) Project, is working with groups in Katilu and Turkwel wards to improve nutrition and access to healthy food by distributing free certified seeds for high nutritious vegetables in the scheme.
According to Africare’s nutrition specialist Kassim Lubao, the organisation, through funding from Bayer Fund, also seeks to improve access to water for farmers to comfortably plant and manage their crops to address malnutrition.
“In partnership with Turkana County government, we are working closely with passionate and committed farmers group to train and support them embrace nutrition-sensitive agriculture to tackle malnutrition,” said Mr Lubao.