Thousands of residents of Magarini have decried price manipulation by sand transporters and called for the revival of a collapsed cooperative society to regulate prices.
The collapse of Magarini Sacco in 2000 happened as the sand harvesting business was booming and the community was reaping good money.
They urged the county government to intervene and rein in sand buyers.
Timboni is one of the areas in Magarini sub-county where locals depend on sand harvesting for their livelihoods.
Sand that can fill a 10-wheel truck goes for Sh1,500, a lower than the Sh6,750 buyers paid before the cooperative collapsed.
A trailer of sand cost Sh17,000 but now it sells for Sh3,000.
Speaking in Timboni, Kingi Kalangulo, an official with the Timboni Loaders Association, said strict laws are needed to regulate the price of sand for the benefit of harvesters.
“Sand harvesting is booming in Magarini as prices are going down daily. A semitrailer comes here to buy sand at Sh1,500, while a trailer gets sand at Sh3,000. We need everything legally put in order,” he said.
He said the law will ensure legal action is taken against offenders.
Transporters, he said, are the biggest beneficiaries of the business because they always buy at low prices and sell for higher.
“Semitrailers buy sand for between Sh1,500 and Sh3,000 and sell the same sand for Sh25,000 to Sh30,000, while those with trailers buy at Sh3,000 and end up selling at between Sh55,000 and Sh56,000,” he said.
On the other side, the loaders used to be paid less than what they earn now because they reorganised and increased their loading fee to double the initial charge.
Mr Kalangulo said workers face challenges in regulating prices because landowners are reluctant to join an association that could help them speak in one voice.
“Landowners do not want to unite, that’s why it has been difficult to regulate the price of sand. Some prefer to sell the land at a cheap price instead of having a well-regulated figure,” he said.
Mr Kalangulo said because of the poor buying prices the community does not earn enough money for conservation programmes.
The bare land is left empty with large open holes that are dangerous to the public.
“It has been difficult to do conservation in quarries because there are no funds allocated for conserving the environment,” he said.
“When the cooperative society was in operation there were funds allocated for rehabilitation of quarries but since it collapsed land is left bare after the sand is harvested.”
Sand harvesting in Magarini started in 1985. The first Magarini sacco was established in 1992 under the name Kilifi Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society.
It collapsed in early 2000 due to administrative challenges.
The sand business involves three players - landowners, loaders and transporters.
The area produces the best sand, which is used locally and nationally. Some transporters export the sand.
It is claimed that the cooperative was prospering before the administrative wrangles started.
Members of the cooperative were building a complex, which has stalled. They also owned a fleet of vehicles.
Kahindi Karisa Kalume, from Mjanaheri, said locals used to make over Sh10 million per month, earning about Sh400,000 daily.
“The sacco created job opportunities for locals, addressed environmental issues and supported our children to go to school by issuing bursaries. But now the community is not benefiting from the sand business,” he said.
He said problems for the sacco started because officials wanted to remain in office forever. When they were ousted, they formed splinter associations to fight the new administrators.
“More than 40 sacco staff have not been paid for months and have families depending on them. We urge the county government to revive the sacco so that those who have not been paid are paid,” he said.
He said the sacco had land, a storey building under construction but now stalled, two trucks, acres of thousands of casuarina trees and eight sand quarries
Lazarus Nyiro, a quarry owner in Timboni, attributed the challenge in regulating prices to the personal interests of some landowners.
“We have experienced this problem for years now. It is because of a few individuals who want to charge less money to satisfy their one-day problem rather than encouraging a moderated pricing for the sake of all the parties,” he said.
He said the area has many landowners who have declined to have a common stand on prices.
“There are very many landowners and some, if they do not sell sand for one or two days, reduce the price to attract transporters,” Mr Nyiro said.
He said the sacco had standardised pricing in place and this benefited locals in many ways.
“There is an urgent need for landowners to come together under the sacco again and enact laws to bar a person from selling sand at a throwaway price for personal gain,” he added.
He challenged members of the county assembly to formulate laws that will regulate the operations of the sand business through the sacco.
Mr Nyiro said the laws should protect locals from exploitation.
Aguinga Agunga, a transporter, said the concerns of locals are genuine.
The only way to support the community, he said, is for transporters to offer better prices for sand.
He observed that many families still live in poverty despite selling tonnes of sand, saying the money they earn is not enough to meet all their needs.
“The money locals are getting from selling their resource is peanuts. We can only help the community when we give them a better price for the product,” he said.
“I know this will not go down well with other transporters and everybody but the truth of the matter is we are there for one another. We must find a way for the community to benefit from whatever they are selling to transporters.”
He urged other transporters to think about the needs of the community.
He said he buys a truck of sand for Sh6,000 while other transporters pay Sh2,400.
He proposed that the prices be increased to Sh12,000 per truck.