About the Region

The region covered is about 170 km in length and 6800 km2 in area; it is narrowest in the central part (near Iten) and widest in the north (where the Cherangany Hills project out to the west). The Cherangany is a system of old fold-mountains (the only one in Kenya) that, millions of years ago, became surrounded by vast lava flows from Mt. Elgon; flows which are now the rich agricultural soils of the Trans Nzoia and Uasin Gishu plains.
The eastern boundary of the region is the eastern edge of the Kerio Valley; in the south the Tugen Hills; in the north the Tiati-Masol Hills. The Tugen Hills are a narrow dome of rock that was uplifted from the middle of the Rift Valley floor. They have a poor, thin soil cover but are very scenic to cycle or drive across.

The most important geophysical fact about this region is the great altitude difference between the highlands and the lowlands. The highlands, mainly to the west and south, average 2400m in altitude, but rise to a maximum (in the Cherangany) of over 3500m. The lowlands (or valley), mainly to the east and north, average 1000m in altitude but drops to a minimum of about 800m (just south of the Masol Hills). The tremendous altitude difference creates tremendous differences in temperature, climate, vegetation, agriculture and life-style of the local people. Along the steep escarpments the differences are experienced as sharp changes in conditions within a short distance and a short time.
For visitors to the region the essential message is: In the highlands it can be very cold, especially at night, despite the equator being so close; and, in the lowlands it can be oppressively hot, even at night.

About the People

The Tugen, Keiyo, Marakwet and Pokot peoples are linguistically and culturally related to each other; they are part of the larger Kalenjin group. Traditionally nomadic pastoralists who wandered down the Nile valley from the North, many hundreds of years ago, they have now largely changed to settled agriculture. Exceptions are groups in Pokot district and parts of the Kerio Valley who are more traditional in all aspects of life.

Undoubtedly the most unique thing about the Keiyo and Marakwet people is the way they used their patrilineal clan system to exploit the great diversity in altitude, climate and vegetation that characterises their lands. Each and every clan has its own strip of land, its own ridges and valleys, stretching from the highlands to the lowlands more than 1000m below. Each has its portion of the Kerio river (endo), each its gently rising valley floor (soiwo), its foothills (lagam), its ascending slopes (masop), its escarpment (tumoo) and its section of forest and highland plateau (tenng’unin). This system ensured all families could benefit from all the agro-climatic zones, throughout the year.

The Pokots, the most northerly of the tribes, can be divided into the “Highlands Pokot” and the “Plains Pokot”. The former, the Pi pa paks, practice mixed agriculture on the slopes of the Cherangany Hills and share much in common with their southern neighbours, the Marakwets, including practicing irrigation in some areas, such as the Tamkal Valley. The plains Pokot, or Pi pa tiks, are a hardy people who live a very traditional, pastoralist way of life in a harsh and challenging environment. They have adopted some social and cultural practises simlar to those of their neighbours to the west and north (Karamajong and Turkana) who live in similar territory with the same challenges. They are noted for their personal body decoration. The women use a lot of brass ornaments; but even the men use brass and copper as indicators of their age set.

Farming in the Region

The staple crop is maize. Smaller amounts of millet and sorghum are grown, the percentage increasing towards the semi-arid valley.
The climate in the highlands is suitable for wheat but the land is too hilly; only a little is grown in the west of Keiyo, where the land merges into the plains of Uasin Gishu.
Potato production is significant in the cold highlands of Marakwet and Keiyo South. In recent times the highlands of Keiyo have started to produce significant amounts of passion fruit while the valley produces pawpaw and beautiful mangoes.
Sheep are reared for wool and meat in the Cherangany Hills. In the valleys, free-ranging goats are everywhere. While very tasty to eat, it is generally agreed they are a negative influence on agro-potential. Recently, camels have been introduced as an alternative.
Marvellous acacia-tree honey from the Kerio find its way to the market in limited quantities.

Recently new experimental crops have been introduced into the Kerio Valley, such as varieties of cotton and ‘dry-land’ rice.
The Arror (Chepkum) area has been a focus of attention. It is fed by the beautiful Arror River that winds down to the Valley from the highest valleys of the Cherangany. The area has, traditionally, utilised irrigation furrows for low-intensity irrigation schemes.
Here, in the near future, there is the very real possibility of serious wildlife-human conflict; in particular, extensive plantations lie across the elephant migration corridor.