Galana Kulalu is one of the key flagship development projects initiated with the objective of ensuring food security and follows recommendations of a feasibility study conducted in 2013. The intention was to establish a 10,000-acre farm but the project has been dogged by delays, cost overruns and politics.
Launched in September 2014, the project was to take 18 months at a cost of Sh14.5 billion but was scaled down to Sh7.2 billion. In October 2018, a dispute erupted over payment of pending bills and cost of production arose between National Irrigation Board (NIB), the implementing agency and Green Arava the consulting firm. This led to Green Arava abandoning site without completing work.
Agriculture Cabinet secretary Mwangi Kiunjuri has said so far the Israel firm has been paid Sh6.1 billion. Kenya cannot afford to give up or let go a noble idea of making the country food secure. But we also cannot allow the loss of such huge amount of money.
Therefore, renewed efforts by Kiunjuri to salvage the project is commendable but should have come earlier. As the CS meets representatives of Green Arava today, he must be aware that Kenyans want nothing less that value for money and returns on investment. In simple terms, Kiunjuri must salvage the project from collapse without incurring unnecessary additional cost.
The meeting must be alive to the fact that Kenyans have lost too much money in many other projects which have either stalled or collapsed because of similar disputes and blatant fiddling.
Officials at NIB and Green Arava must come to the table with a way forward. For Green Arava, it must agree to arbitration to resolve the conflict to continue with the project or agree to termination of the contract through mutual agreement.
On the other hand, NIB must be careful not to force termination of the contract. The inclusion of a team from the Presidential Delivery Unit, National Treasury and Attorney General to help resolve the dispute was a step in the right direction.
There are reports that Green Arava spent Sh90,643 per acre, but NIB has disputed this saying actual estimates cannot exceed Sh50,079 per acre. However, if these are the actual cost, then this would mean that the project is far from being economically viable.
On its part, NIB says the current maize crop planted on 1,000 acres is tasseling with Sh27,000 spent per acre and cost is expected to hit Sh45,000 per acre at the end of the season. Does this point to over-costing or under-estimation. The big question is, who is fooling who?