Fresh from a banking industry, Trans Nzoia county governor Patrick Khaemba has turned himself into a crusader of agribusiness.
He has been sensitising residents on the importance of practising crop diversification and spinning their farming activities into business ventures to increase their income base and improve livelihood.
Khaemba says high poverty levels in the county have been attributed to overreliance on maize farming which, in recent years, has been fetching low prices.
In his manifesto, the governor introduced tissue culture banana and is partnering with the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) to explore the new venture.
He says maize farmers harvest only once a year adding that introduction of the new variety of bananas will enable farmers improve their living standards as they will be harvesting the crop after every four months.
Conversely, the governor has not lost hope in maize farming which has been used to map the county as the country’s food basket.
In November last year, the county committed to spend Sh500 million to construct a maize milling plant in Kitale in a bid to keep afloat production of the crop. The milling plant will also create employment opportunities and further increase revenue base for the county.
Khaemba has vowed not to allow ferrying of maize to other counties reiterating that only finished goods will be allowed out of the county.
The county is also constructing stores in every sub-county which will help in distribution of farm inputs and at the same time, act as maize buying centers, Khaemba says, adding that the initiative will help reduce high transportation cost incurred by small farmers.
Khaemba’s government has already opened up 1,500km of roads in rural areas aimed at ensuring farmers transport their produce to the market 0n time. To ensure regular production of food, the county has set aside Sh51 million to rehabilitate Marinda, Simatwet and Ng’eng’e dams in Kwanza.
Further, the county projects that by 2017, water will be tapped into all households in the county. The county has also entered into agreement with Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, Nandi and Bungoma counties to utilise the Eldoret International Airport to export farm produce to Middle East and Southern Sudan. Other projects to be rolled out this year include pig, and rabbit farming to create employment for the youth.
“Maize farming is not helping our people get out of poverty. Instead, it is the reason why the county poverty rate stands at 51 per cent. This is the time to forge a way forward and conclusively address this issue,” he says.
On health, Khaemba continues to face myriad hurdles in one of his mega projects where the county purchased a hospital at Sh185 million to be turned into a referral and teaching facility.
The move has been met with opposition from politicians in the region; with some claiming the project is a white elephant. Despite the hurdles, Khaemba has promised to deliver his pledges to the people of Trans Nzoia. This year, the county plans to supply drugs worth Sh60 million to health centers.
Commissioning of six ambulances is also expected to handle emergencies in the county. Installation of street lights in major trading centres in the county is said to boost a 24-hour economy.
Khaemba says his development plan is in line with the county integrated development plans 2013-2017 which captures the vision, mission and core values of the county. Khaemba has declared his commitment in ensuring the county is free of graft and has warned lazy and corrupt officials within his administration to carry out their duties and abandon vices or else face disciplinary action.
The tough-talking governor has not minced his words saying such vices derail development in the county. The governor has also added that his government is in the process of hiring road engineers to oversee the ongoing rural road repairs, warning that those engaging in shoddy jobs will be sacked.
His desire, he says, is to ensure all communities take part in the development of the county even as he promises to ensure that Trans Nzoia becomes a model county for other counties in the country.