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The development of Bura Irrigation Scheme began in 1978 with 6,700 hectares set aside for irrigation in Phase One and 5,000 hectares for Phase Two. It kicked off with combined efforts from the World Bank, the Kenyan Government and a few other donors with the aim of developing rural areas and providing job opportunities.

During the initial stages, the National Irrigation Authority (NIA), formerly National Irrigation Board (NIB), was in charge up to 1985. The management of the project was then handed over to the Ministry of Agriculture, followed by the Ministries of Regional Development, Land Reclamation, Regional and Water Development, and finally, back to the Ministry of Agriculture until 2002. In 2003, the Ministry of Water, Sanitation and Irrigation took over operations of the Scheme. The NIA once again, took over from December 2005.

Unlike Perkerra, Tana and Mwea Irrigation Schemes, this scheme did not have detainees as labourers. Instead, people were drawn from different provinces, then through the Provincial Administration. Others were from the detention camp that was at Hola; a few came from the disciplined forces, and they were all settled at the scheme. The first group of farmers was settled in 1982.

In the 1990s, the World Bank and other donors withdrew support and operations slowly stopped, resulting in difficulties and eventual collapse. The collapse pushed farmers to depend on food aid/relief before they moved to other places in search of food and other sources of income to support family. “When the scheme collapsed, I looked for other ways of earning like selling water and carrying multiple sacks every day,” says Stephen Jaramaba. Other people remained in the scheme were looked forward to its revival.

From 1993, the government started a revival. In 2005, the attempts of reviving the scheme were successful and few farmers who were still in the scheme started growing several crops. A year later farmers who had left started returning. Cotton growing was attempted but lack of enough water for irrigation due to frequent breakdown of the Nanighi Pumps and inadequate market made it impossible to continue.

As a result, the farmers switched to seed maize production and other horticultural crops such as watermelon. In 2016, farmers started growing rice, which is currently doing so well in the scheme under 2,000 acres and above while other crops such as maize, watermelons, onions, green grams and tomatoes occupy about 1, 100 acres. In an acre, farmers harvest between 30 to 40 bags of 90kg from Komboka rice production.

The scheme has a population of 2,245 settled farmers who live in 11 villages, each farmer has three acres for growing cash crops and 0.125 acres for kitchen garden.

Bura Irrigation Scheme taps water from River Tana, about 50km away, by pumping using diesel-fuelled generators and pump sets each with a discharge capacity of 2.7m3/second. However, a gravity-based irrigation water conveyance system (Bura Irrigation Development Project) is under construction and its completion will reduce the scheme’s expenses on fuel and maintenance of the pump station. Once complete, the number of irrigated acres will grow from 12,000 to a maximum of 25,000. This will enhance food security in Kenya.