Politics of Yala Swamp and Dominion Farms in Kenya
Dominion Farms Limited is a multinational international firm owned by an American entrepreneur Mr. Calvin Burgess of Edmund Oklahoma, USA.
The firm entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Kenya in 2004, which leased it 3000 hectares of the original 6000 hectares Dominion Farms had requested. Since then the firm has been producing large quantity of maize, cotton, sunflower , rice, groundnuts on the already reclaimed area. It has also started a bee keeping and fish farming project which is meant to boost the economy and food production.
Both the government and opposition Members of Parliament are happy with the activities of Dominion Farms and talk is rife that Mr. Burgess recently requested President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya to consider increasing the lease allocation to 17,500 hectares of the Yala River Swamp located next Lake Victoria to cover more areas and benefit the local communites who, according to Mr. Burgess, are the among the poorest in Kenya – more than 80% of whom live below $1 a day – in addition to facing the grim realities of HIV/Aids, Malaria and extreme weather conditions.
However, it has not been smooth sailing for Dominion Farms. Lobby groups and environmental activists have raised serious concerns with Kenyan and UNEP authorities about alleged environmental destruction and human rights abuses committed by Dominion Farms in Kenya’s Yala Swamp. The firm is being accused of that its industrial agriculture and aquaculture projects threaten the integrity of the Yala Swamp ecosystem and the health and well being of up to 1 million residents. It has also been accused of flooding private agricultural and grazing lands as well as homes, forced thousands of people (with compensation) to relocate against their will, cutting fishermen off from communal fishing areas, and contaminating water that people and animals use for drinking. For this reason they say, it is vital that Dominion Farms’ proposed expansion and new projects each be thoroughly and independently assessed for the impacts they will have on the swamp ecosystem and the human population. They say that no corporation should be permitted to profit at the expense of irreplaceable natural resources and human rights. Infact, some lobbyist have likened Dominion Farms activities in Kenya as “re-colonization by multinational corporations”.
“It’s forty-four years since Kenyans won independence. Now they’re fighting for self determination again,” said Paula Palmer of Global Response.
Whether the lobbyist succeed in ending the activities of Dominion Farms in Yala Swamp remain to be seen. With the General Elections looming in December 2007, the Government of Kenya is keen not to upset local communities who are happy with the commercial activities of the multinational company.