A bold agricultural development plan in East Africa is to reverse the universal trend of ill-planned urban settlements devouring the surrounding countryside.
The project, which follows more than two decades of discussions and investigations, is to turn Kenya's vast and neglected Tana River basin into prosperous farmland supporting many industries.
The East African nation is building a modern township to serve the expanding needs of agriculture in the Tana basin.
The scheme is part of one of East Africa's biggest development projects. Its aim is to tame the biggest river of the region, provide hydroelectric power and drinking water, and rescue tens of thousands of acres of land, hitherto subject to recurring floods and drought. The result is expected to be an area for irrigated agriculture producing such lucrative crops as cotton and maize.
Canada, Britain, West Germany, the Netherlands, the European Community as a whole, and the World Bank have put their faith and money into the project. It promises to create a measure of prosperity in a food- deficient African continent.
The entire project will cost at least $300 million, a proportion of which is being financed by Kenya. Many buildings in the township of Bura already are being occupied.
The center is being erected along a single master plan assembled by consultants engaged for the project through Britain's Overseas Development Administration here. It includes medical, cultural, sporting and shopping facilities, schools, a network of roads, and a safe water supply. It may soon be made into an independent municipality to be run by its residents.
Bura is on the lower Tana River east of Nairobi and north of the port of Mombasa. It is to serve as an administrative and trading center for four farming settlements currently being established on the west bank of the river. (The project is to expand to the east bank later.)
Each of the settlements is allocated up to 1,500 acres of good land, with water for irrigation provided by a new pumping station on the river and distributed along freshly dug canals.
Every settlement is to have about 250 families. Financing is made available for them to build and eventually purchase their homes, and for seeds, fertilizers, and other essential agricultural investment. Each family is to work a plot of over three acres of land intended for cash crops, plus a vegetable garden for domestic use.
The first settlers have come from a pilot irrigation project nearby, which had proved the agricultural and economic viability of the Bura scheme. Many formerly landless families are expected from all parts of the country soon. By 1988, the Bura project is to support about 65,000 settlers.
The ground has been prepared for them through land clearance, the construction of the irrigation system as well as the roads, and the provision of public health, educational, social, and administrative facilities. The settlements on the west bank alone are expected to produce about 35,000 bales of cotton annually, increasing Kenya's national output by more than 50 percent.
Bura is only one region within the Tana River basin, which stretches across one-fifth of Kenya's land area. It has been of little agricultural use so far because of the hot, dry climate and the recurring floods. But the taming of the river and the irrigation of the area have created a wide range of opportunities for agricultural expansion within the entire river basin.
The development plan, which is being put into operation after more than 20 years of discussions and investigations, calls for establishment of many agricultural settlements supporting such related industrial enterprises as canning factories and cotton gins.
All this has been made possible by a new dam on the upper stretch of the 800 -mile Tana River, which flows from Mount Kenya to the Indian Ocean. The Masigna hydroelectric dam is eventually to supply 800 megawatts of electricity.
The reservoir now building up behind the dam is to extend over 30 miles and hold seven months' supply of water, ensuring a constant and controlled amount of water for the thirsty agricultural enterprises taking root t hroughout the area.