Teach a Kenyan cattle herder how to fish and you'll feed him for life.

That was at least what Norway's development agency believed in the 1980s, when it built a fish-processing factory now abandoned and decaying on the shores of Lake Turkana in northwestern Kenya.

In an attempt to develop one of east Africa's poorest regions, the Norwegian government saw a golden opportunity in the huge but virtually unused lake teeming with fish.

It built a fish-freezing plant and set about teaching Turkana's largely pastoral communities how to exploit the lake's fish stocks to bring hard cash into the poverty-stricken region.

Norway felt this is a district that has been neglected by the state, Pippi Soegaard, first secretary of the Norwegian development agency in Kenya, told Reuters on a trip to Turkana.

Twenty years on, the Kaalokol fish factory is another page in Africa's catalogue of reminders that successful aid requires more than just money and good intentions.

Apart from a few dried fish sometimes stored here by local fishermen, the factory is unused.

Aid workers blame several factors: poor consultation with communities, a lack of monitoring progress, Turkana's economic remoteness, a pastoral way of life unsuited to fishing and a diplomatic row between Norway and ex-president Daniel arap Moi.

Moi briefly broke off diplomatic ties with Norway in 1990 after accusing it of sheltering dissident politicians.

Moi didn't realise that if you throw out an ambassador the aid would also go, Soegaard said. (The factory) ended as an unsuccessful programme in the middle of nowhere.

Ties were restored in 1994 but development aid resumed only in 2004.

Soegaard did not know how much money was pumped into the factory itself, but estimated that Norway spent about 1 billion Norwegian crowns ($152 million) in today's money in Turkana over 20 years, on the factory and regional community projects.

Now, local officials want to see what lessons can be learned from the project. Some say it is time to revive the plant.

We need to reconsider, said Turkana district official Rogers Sikulu. This factory could work if we learn from past mistakes.

A drought in the Horn of Africa, killing livestock and threatening vulnerable communities with famine, has added urgency to the search for fresh sources of income in Turkana, one of the worst affected regions.

We live an environment that is very harsh. You might go two years without rain. Your livestock die, then what? You need to diversify and fishing is one way of doing it, Sikulu said.


Despite living near one of Africa's biggest lakes, the Turkana people traditionally do not fish.

Like other Nilotic peoples in the Horn of Africa, they are semi-nomadic pastoralists who live off the milk, blood and meat of their herds. Even today, few Turkana fish commercially.

If you fish it means you are poor because you have no livestock, said Philip Ayane, 22, who lives in the remote village of Nandapal.

Mostly, it is people who have lost everything to drought who go fishing, when there's no other choice.

Failure to understand such habits was another reason the Kaalokol project failed.

It was the old top-bottom approach, said Cheanati Wasike, government fisheries officer for Lake Turkana. The lake was identified by outsiders as a resource but they never consulted the Turkana, never asked them what they thought of fishing it.

Restarting the factory -- and Soegaard said the money needed to do so was very unlikely to come from Norway because of a shift in focus to funding good governance initiatives -- would involve more than just overcoming cultural inhibitions.

Turkana's remoteness, cut off from the rest of Kenya by poor roads, few telephones and little electricity, makes it a difficult place to sustain a fishing business.

The factory was running on generators. The costs were more than we were getting back, said Wasike. We're far from the end consumer and we have a product that perishes fast. The cold chain is expensive.

Another challenge would be bringing in outsiders with fishing expertise. Inviting experienced fishermen from other regions to start businesses could spark conflict in an already volatile region, where nomadic tribes have clashed.

If we could get the Luo (tribe in western Kenya) to come here, it could be more commercial, said Wasike. But the Turkana won't have any other tribe on the lake. That is war.