After 50 Years, Land They Can Call Their Own
Photo: Wilfred Muchire/IRIN
|A view of the land that the government recently allocated thousands of people in Central Province|
NYERI, 6 July 2009 (IRIN) – After a 50-year wait, thousands of Kenyans in Central Province have received the most coveted asset in the country – a piece of land.
The move is not only good news for those allocated the land but for the country as a whole as the move will boost food security when the recipients start farming wheat, beans, maize and livestock on the 6,070ha.
The 2,900 families have started tilling their land as the government formalizes the settlement, which was part of more than 28,327ha of land initially used for cattle farming, as well as a private game sanctuary owned by an investor.
The government paid the investor US$16.5 million for the land, between Mt Kenya and Aberdare National parks near Central Province’s boundary with Rift Valley Province.
Most of the recipients had, since independence in 1963, been living on government land within Mt Kenya forest and Aberdare Ranges until 1989 when the authorities evicted them for encroaching on water catchment areas.
Since they had nowhere else to go, they camped on road reserves adjacent to the forests where they lived in deplorable conditions.
They are among thousands of Kenyans who failed to secure land when demarcation took place in the late 1950s before independence. This was because they had sold off their land, had worked away from home when demarcation took place, or were so poor that they did not have any land when demarcation began.
After they were evicted from the forests in 1989, most settled in areas adjacent to the two major water towers (Mt Kenya and Aberdare National Parks) in areas such as Chehe, Hombe, Kagochi and Ragati near Mt Kenya and Zaina, Kabage and Gakanga in Aberdare Ranges.
Japhter Kiplimo Rugut, the Central Province commissioner, who has been overseeing the resettlement, said the settlement scheme involved farmers living on designated sites and farming elsewhere.
Under this model, being tested for the first time but set to be rolled out in other areas where there are squatters, the allocated land entailed 0.2ha for each farmer to set up a homestead and another 1.6ha on which to farm.
“People will be living in one area and farming elsewhere in this new planned settlement scheme,” Rugut told IRIN. “The government will be carrying out a similar exercise in Kibwezi area of lower Eastern Province and in parts of Coast Province where there are landless people waiting to be given land.”
Photo: Wilfred Muchire/IRIN
|Mary Wambui outside her hut; she is one of the thousands of beneficiaries of government land|
Rugut said the move was expected to boost the region’s food security as the government had, for years, been feeding the families.
“We have been giving relief supplies to the more than 2,900 families who have been given land,” he said. “They did not have anywhere to farm and solely relied on the government supplies, which will be a thing of the past once they settle in their farms.”
The government has set aside more than $1.2 million to set up various amenities in the area, including water, electricity, health and education facilities.
James Mwangi, 75, one of the recipients, said he hoped to enjoy the fruits of his land despite his advanced age.
“I have been landless throughout my life and I can only thank God and the government for eventually giving me a piece of land; we have suffered for decades,” Mwangi said.
Another recipient, Mary Wambui, was optimistic that despite the failing rains, she would harvest her own crop after years of depending on relief supplies.
“The last time I harvested my crops was in 1989 before we were evicted from Mt Kenya forest; for the last 20 years, we have been surviving on government and Red Cross supplies and occasionally [some] from well-wishers,” she said.