Treasury lines up special fund for buying idle land

An affordable housing project

An affordable housing project in Ngara, Nairobi, on December 4, 2020. The government will set up a special fund to buy idle tracts of land to support State-backed projects such as the construction of affordable housing.

Photo credit: Salaton Njau | Nation Media Group

The government will set up a special fund to buy idle tracts of land from individuals and land-owning entities to support State-backed projects such as commercial farming and the construction of affordable housing.

The Treasury says the fund, to be known as Settlement Fund, will be similar to a kitty used by the government nearly seven decades ago to buy large tracts of land from settlers after Kenya got independence.

“The government will establish a Settlement Fund similar to the one that was used to acquire land from settler farmers after independence,” the Treasury said in its expenditure plans for 2023.

The scheme, which was part of Kenya Kwanza’s manifesto, will help stop land subdivision, according to the Treasury.

“To stop land fragmentation, the land purchased by the scheme will be subject to land use planning where beneficiaries will own transferable residential plots in the planned settlement, and right to lease non-transferable agricultural land,” the Treasury added.

The State just after independence rolled out an initiative known as the Kenyan Land Settlement Programme, which focused on the settlement of the landless poor and was funded by budgetary allocations.

The land settlement programme was launched in 1961 and the then Department of Settlement was created in 1962 to implement the programme on behalf of the Settlement Fund Trustee (SFT), a body corporate established under a legal notice to help execute the initiative.

The initial fund later morphed into the Agricultural Settlement Fund Trustees, which has been being managed jointly by the Ministry of Lands, the Treasury, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Interior.

However, its most recent mandate, which expired last year, was limited to purchasing land for squatters.

The disclosure by the Treasury comes in the wake of proposals to tax idle land and repossess idle land owned by parastatals and lease it to private investors for commercial agriculture to rev up the production of food for local supply and exports and create new jobs.

Housing PS Charles Hinga last week proposed taxation on idle land, in a bid to free up space for the affordable housing programme.

He also urged prisons and railways to relocate from urban centres to pave the way for housing projects.

The PS said that moving prison facilities out of towns would create more space for affordable housing.

In May last year, the Cabinet under retired President Uhuru Kenyatta approved the seizure of idle land to boost food security and reduce the cost of living.