PETER ORUA: TOP-PERFORMING ENGINEER TURNING BURA AROUND.
Mr Peter Orua is the Bura Irrigation Scheme manager. He is pursuing a Master’s degree in Soil and Water Engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and has a BSC in Agricultural Engineering from Egerton University. Mr Orua has more than 11 years of experience in irrigation engineering.
A man of few calculated words, Mr Orua has an infectious laughter.
How would you describe yourself?
I am a team-player who respects authority and driven by the desire to make change and a positive impact in the lives of people.
How was it growing up?
I grew up in Ogande Village, Homa Bay County in a family of 10; three boys and seven girls. I am the seventh-born.
I am from a humble family. My parents, both retired teachers, brought us up to be responsible, accountable and hard working. In fact, my mother holds this rigid belief that “If you do not work, you should not eat.” With this in mind, we had to hold ourselves to high moral standards and put up a lot of effort to merit our place in everything that we did. We had no room for mischief, and we were accountable for every action. I remember, while in high school, my dad occasionally gave me my school fees to keep till it was needed.
I also adored riding bicycles. Growing up, we did not have toys, so we had to get creative. I loved moulding animals and construction machinery. We used cables and boxes to make car toys that had extended steering wheels, gears and brakes. We paid close attention to every detail, even going so far as to keenly observe how cars were operated and imitate them while operating our playthings with all the relevant car sounds (Voom! Voom! Voom!).
Out of curiosity, I would open up my dad’s watches and radios, trying to understand how they worked and looking for the people talking behind the radio (he laughs). As my interest in physics grew, I later subsequently learned that the voices were actually transmitted frequencies.
Best memories growing up?
I have a lot of memories, because growing up was fun. I was daddy’s boy and we got along well with my father, occasionally drawing various animals and taking care of cattle during my free time, especially during school holidays. Initially, I thought I would become a veterinary doctor, but, alas, the engineering career in me was in the making.
I attended Wiobiero Primary School from Class One to Class Two, then transferred to Rodi-Kopany Primary School, from where I sat for my Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) examination. I was admitted to Orero Boys Secondary School, thanks to my good performance…and really, I did not have any other choice because my parents had warned us that they would never look for schools; our marks got us admitted to the merited schools. Later, I joined Egerton University to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering. I am pursuing a Master of Science degree in Soil and Water Engineering at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
How was your experience at Egerton University?
Campus life was quite amazing. I met friends working for National Irrigation Authority (NIA) like Eng. Stephen Mutinda, the Project Manager of the recently completed 15.6 cubic metres Thiba Dam, who was my classmate. Eng. Jairus Serede, a Senior Irrigation Engineer stationed at the head office and Mr. Aggrey Koech, Irrigation Engineer at Bunyala Irrigation Scheme, who were a class ahead of us. The virtues of hard work, accountability and responsibility already instilled in me came in handy because we had crash programmes during our university days. We used to have most semesters lasting 12 weeks each and read for more than 12 hours a day when preparing for exams. It is at Egerton that I also learned to work under pressure.
How has your experience growing up moulded you into the person you are today?
Growing up, I wanted to be a veterinary doctor. My love for animals was so paramount. Since primary school days, I liked the subject of Science and Agriculture. In high school, it was physics and ended up doing all sciences. Physics would explain to me how things work. I have lived by the virtues instilled in me by my parents.
“Something worth doing is worth doing well,” my mum would retort. We were never allowed to delegate our assigned duties and there was no room for mediocrity, the sun would also not rise while we were still asleep, except when one was unwell, and it would not set while we were away from home, unless with permission. These virtues still make sense to me and I intuitively apply them.
How did you join the job market?
After campus, I did several odd jobs, including managing our family businesses, working for the then Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) at different occasions and in various capacities. Later on, in 2010, I secured an employment with Cooperative Bank of Kenya.
In 2011, I joined NIB (National Irrigation Board), now NIA as an Irrigation Engineer and was posted to Mwea Irrigation Scheme. In 2016, I was transferred to Bura Irrigation Scheme in the same capacity where I was later appointed as the Scheme Manager, a duty I discharge to date. I have spent the better part of my career working for the NIA; I owe it to the NIA and co-workers. The NIA employees are deeply committed to changing this nation. Let’s keep up with the positive attitude.
I once received a notice of contract termination while working for a certain organisation on contract terms. Fortunately, I had supportive co-workers and supervisors who saw to it that I did not go under. This is a story for another day if time allows (laughing heartily).
What does the completion of Bura Irrigation and Settlement Scheme Rehabilitation Project mean for Bura Irrigation Scheme?
Bura Irrigation Scheme farmers have limited access to irrigation water. The Bura Irrigation and Settlement Scheme Rehabilitation Project completion will give us the opportunity to effectively crop up to about 25,000 acres of land under irrigation, providing reliable and sufficient amount of irrigation water to the scheme through a gravity-fed system. Once completed, it will additionally assist NIA do away with the high operation and maintenance costs associated with pumping irrigation water. The project is a step in the right direction resulting in positive development and will ultimately be a game-changer.
Advice to young professionals entering the job market?
Any kind of work that helps you put food on the table and pay bills should be respected; so, grab the opportunity if chance allows. Your likelihood of receiving a second/better engagement as well as other opportunities after securing one job opening depends on the networks you establish and the experience acquired.
One should not cherry-pick a job opening; instead, use the opportunity to get started. “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush”; I applied this principle during my earlier job-hunting times and did various jobs not necessarily related to my engineering degree. I am proud that these jobs would foot my bills and put food on my table rather than beg.
Advise to those planning to retire?
I am not an authority on this field given my age; anyhow, one needs to plan where and how he/she would like to retire; take care not to retire and move upcountry if you rarely visit upcountry. If one spent most of his/her time in a city/town set-up, just stay around the city/town after retirement. Additionally, do what you enjoy while on retirement to sustain yourself economically.
How would you describe your staff?
I have a very dedicated and skilled workforce. We support one another as we work towards a common goal of improving Bura Irrigation Scheme and, more especially, the lives of Bura Scheme farmers. I’m grateful for the support from each and every one of them.
I immensely contribute to the rehabilitation of the Mwea Irrigation Scheme; this was a complicated exercise since cropping activities and the rehabilitation works ran concurrently. I am currently burning the midnight oil to ensure the sleeping giant, Bura Scheme, is on the right track so as to be able to take off soonest. It’s my dream for Bura that must come to pass.
Lessons on the way?
At Bura Irrigation Scheme, I entered into new frontiers and, true to expectations, there were obstacles, challenges and new opportunities. I must admit that working with my team for the first time as a manager was quite challenging since they had until then known me as the Scheme engineer. Politics, both good and bad, managing farmers and employees and how to keep active networks with employers, colleagues, and the provincial administration nearby test you on all fronts. It is important to keep your ear on the ground as a manager, you should not always rely only on the formal information sources, but also on the informal ones; nonetheless, decisions should not be made solely on gossip and rumours, but rather on facts. One should also be aware of the fact that not everyone has your best interests at heart.
Challenges encountered along the way?
I recall that in my handing over meeting with IWUA leadership at Mwea Irrigation Scheme, the IWUA leaders had an impeachment motion against their chairperson based on some serious allegations. I was left wondering how I was going to make it through in Mwea with that hot politics on my first day. Moreover, the Scheme was very expansive (about 22,000 acres at the time) and I almost considered quitting but I soldiered on. I am happy that I surmounted all these.
When I got to Bura Scheme, there was another challenge: Almost the entire Engineering Department’s casual staff downed their tools in my first few weeks and demanded to be addressed on getting their unpaid salary arrears. I found myself addressing this amicably with the other Head of Departments, since our Manager then was out of station, and the staff agreed to resume their duties.
When I was just about two months old at Bura, another challenge came and I was informed to go and receive our then Principal Secretary at Kora gravity intake, on behalf of our then Manager, while on tour of the Bura Irrigation Rehabilitation Project. Later, we went to our Nanighi Pump station where I only expected to brief him on technical issues. Little did I know that the PS would require a brief on the financial and agricultural aspects of the scheme that I had scantily grasped! It was tough but explained everything to the best of my knowledge. I am happy that these challenges have shaped me to be who I am today.
What has been your contribution to the Big Four Agenda?
Dealing with cosmopolitan farmers and satisfying them all is difficult. In order to protect farmers from obvious losses, we have only introduced crops for mass production in farmers’ fields after conducting trials at our Research Station and confirming that indeed the trials are successful. The crops so far introduced to farmers are Soybean (SEEDCO’s SP 19 & DPSB8), rice (KALRO’s Komboka rice), Seed maize (MONSANTO’s/ Bayer EA’s DK 777 & KENYA SEED’s H517,H532 & H624) and Sunflower (ADVANTA’s HYSUN 33). We have more crops in the pipeline.
Farmers are now able to take care of their health issues, upgrade their housing, and are food secure thanks to the extra money they have in their wallets and purses from various farming activities. I would like to see farmers, through their organizations, add value to the products that we grow at the scheme.
Typical working day
Time management is very important. I wake up at around 6am, get ready, and head to the field first to check on the field activities. I arrive at the office around 10.00am to meet my staff, farmers and visitors. Larger portion of the time in the office is spent on solving farmers’ issues and engaging different stakeholders.
My driving force is God and my faith in Him. This gives me a lot of inspiration, power and concentration. I am also driven by the desire to help and see people thrive and succeed in life. I detest failure and I am always committed to doing my best in every assignment or in any situation.
Do you read?
I read a lot. I love motivational material, especially Christian literature and books on leadership.
Always honour God, be professional, firm, and fair.