At is inception, the million-acre Galana-Kulalu irrigation project was touted as a masterplan that would consign Kenya’s perennial food shortage to the annals of history.
The 10,000-acre Galana Model Farm, on which maize, the country’s staple, would be grown, would produce enough grain to plug the annual deficit, Kenyans were told. It would also be a showcase project from which other irrigation schemes would be modelled on.
But five years since the National Irrigation Board signed a Sh14.5 billion contract — later scaled down to Sh7.3 billion— with Israeli firm Green Arava, the project is beginning to look like another white elephant, if not a downright rip-off.
While Sh6.1 billion, 80 per cent of the contract cost, has already been paid to the contractor, only 50 per cent of the work has been done. Reports, for example, that an astounding Sh580 million was used just to clear bushes, do not create much confidence in the project.
And what does the project have to show for all the money so far sunk into it? Some 22,000 bags of maize, worth Sh35 million! It would be laughable if it were not tragic.
Tragic not only because the Galana-Kulalu project is morphing into another financial black hole, it also dashes the hopes of Kenya becoming food self-sufficient in the foreseeable future.
It means one pillar of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda —food security — may turn into a pipe dream.
Which is why the President must act. Act on the claims by the contractor that some officials in his administration are actively working to ensure the food security project bites the dust; act on the corruption cartels that see the project as another big payday for them and their cronies; act on officials responsible for poor planning and incompetence that may have contributed to the near-collapse of the project.
The President must move with haste and resolve in the knowledge that unlike other scandals that fizzle out with time, Galana-Kulalu debacle will linger on in the collective memory of Kenyans for as long as annual famines and food shortages persist.
Kenyans will recall about the failure of the project every time pictures of starving children are splattered on TV screens or newspaper pages. Even worse, when the price of unga dramatically shoots up because of another predictable maize shortage.