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This study analyzes food security and coping mechanisms in semi-arid West Pokot between 1920–1995. Based on a wide array of primary and secondary sources, the study analyzes the historical role of indigenous irrigation, specifically furrow irrigation, rain-fed farming and livestock keeping, in food production and food security among the Pokot of northwest Kenya. Besides farming and herding, the study also analyzes trade, hunting and gathering, as well as lending and borrowing (for example of food) based on reciprocity, and their contribution to food security in the area. In the colonial and post-colonial West Pokot, income from wage labor and mining activities (mainly from small-scale gold panning in the area), although limited, has also been used by a number of Pokot households to purchase food and meet other necessities from time to time, especially during years of drought and famine. Thus as shown in this study, most Pokot have learned, over the years to rely not only on one, but multiple activities, all complementing each other to survive in a harsh environment. As detailed in this study, there was government intervention in crop production and irrigation (for example in maize growing and establishment of large-scale irrigation projects), livestock keeping, soil conservation and famine relief among other socio-economic activities in the study area. However, state intervention/investments, for example, in agricultural production, were too minimal to transform the Pokot economy. In fact, state intervention in the marketing of livestock products in the study area was mainly to raise state revenue rather than to boost the Pokot economy. Therefore, despite government intervention and minimal investments in the Pokot economy, household production in the area has been mainly for subsistence as opposed to commercial purposes. Moreover, from time to time, a number of Pokot households have had to rely on famine relief from the government/donor community during dry years. Yet, relief food to meet the needs of the Pokot, as well as other Kenyans, is short term solution that fails to deal with issues of long-term food insecurity. Instead, state intervention in the Pokot economy interfered with the Pokot coping mechanisms, and their contribution to food security in a harsh environment. Generally, environmental stress (aridity, crop and livestock diseases), border conflicts and cattle raids have hampered socio-economic development and the quest for food security in West Pokot district. At the same time, West Pokot being a dry area, low in potential, with a difficult terrain, has been marginalized since the colonial period, in terms of state investments compared to the country's high potential areas—parts of Central, Rift Valley and Western provinces of Kenya. Thus, most areas of West Pokot district have continued to be isolated from the rest of the country, lag behind in socio-economic development, and thus the study area has yet to be incorporated effectively into Kenya's political economy.