Recently, I was in the North Rift region, specifically in Uasin Gishu and Elgeyo Marakwet counties. It is the dry and hot season and so even the usually cool Iten town in Elgeyo Marakwet, because of its high altitude, felt hot. But it was evident to me that the farmers are anticipating the long rains, which should start early March.
Over the years, the rainfall pattern has been, almost to the week, but because of global warming, which has led to climate change, worldwide, the rains might not come at the expected time. Either they will come too soon, or really delay, or they will come in amounts that are too heavy, thereby destroying the crops. Alternatively, the rains might be too scanty to sustain the blooming of crops.
Either way, this cannot and has not prevented the farmers from preparing the land by harrowing the soil and clearing the weeds. Travelling interior into the farmlands, I saw farmers doing exactly that: Tractors with their cacophony of noises, were ploughing the land, those with smaller pieces of land tilled them with hoes. I even saw some brave farmers sowing seeds in their already tilled lands.
Yet, it is not only global climate changes that are affecting the local farmer in Kenya: the cutting of forest trees, through the practice of the shamba system, the invading of water towers such the Mau Forest has equally made the rains quite unpredictable.
The desire to resettle people by politicians, oftentimes with a hideous agenda, desire to own land to farm and population explosion are factors that have all led to people interfering with their natural habit, which in turn has interfered with their age-old agricultural practice.
From my tours and travels in the North Rift, farming will still be the backbone of the region even in the years to come – whether it is subsistence or mechanised farming, growing of cash crops or food for local consumption. So, it behoves the people and their respective leaders to devise ways of enhanced environmental protection. They have to come up with better and improved modern methods of farming, which maximises the shrinking and scarce resource that is the land for farming. The greatest challenge for both the people and their leaders remains to be the forest encroachment that has been going on for many years, of course with the connivance of local political elites.
That agriculture is the economic mainstay of the rural counties, does not discount the fact that they can indeed engage in other non-agricultural activities. I have Elgeyo Marakwet County in mind. Known for its world-famous marathon runners – indeed one of the county’s selling slogans is home of champions – the county government would do well to tap on its potential as a tourist destination.
In Elgeyo Marakwet County, Europeans walk casually up and down the streets of Iten town, as if they were strolling in the rural towns of Europe. So casually and integrated these whites have become that residents have stopped getting fascinated or noticing them. In the mornings and evenings though, these lanky youthful Europeans can be seen running the breadth and width of Iten town.
Intrigued mostly by the marathon runners of Elgeyo Marakwet County, who have continued to win international marathon competitions in Europe and America, with much ease and great panache, athletic coaches of these two continents began sending their athletes to Iten to find out exactly what it is with this high altitude picturesque town. Accompanying the athletes and their coaches and scouters, were sports journalists and writers, psychologists and sociologists, brought in to Iten to help unearth the secret to the international gold medallists effortless wins.
To date, these European and American sports connoisseurs of Iten have yet to crack what it is that makes a Keiyo or a Marakwet run ”breathless” like he was born to run. Is it the food? So these sports connoisseurs have been eating the local cuisine in the hope that the food may also work magic in their bodies. Is it the milk? Some of these foreign sport writers have been writing that there is a special milk that Kalenjin community drink, could it be the secret? So, some of these foreigners in Iten have also been drinking mursik, the bitter-sweet sour milk mixed with charcoal that is reputed to have medicinal value.
Or is it the terrain? So, these foreign athletes were advised by their coaches to ensure they train with the local athletes anytime they train and make sure they understand the routes they follow. Other than the terrain itself, could the particular routes have some secrets? So, the foreign athletes are still flocking to Iten town.
I arrived in Iten early morning from Eldoret and a hoard of tall lanky runners were on the Eldoret-Iten Road doing their thing.
The Elgeyo Marakwet County should market the county as the sports tourist destination for tourists and athletes who want to discover the secret to winning marathon races. It should market mursik milk as the secret to the staying power of a marathoner. The county government would be shocked to learn that all this time it has been sitting on untapped resources it can convert to a constant revenue stream.
Mr Kahura is a senior writer for ‘The Elephant’, a Nairobi-based publication.