President Ruto joins debate over 8,000 acres of Del Monte's ceded land

Pineapples growing on Del Monte Kenya Limited farm

An aerial view of pineapples growing on Del Monte Kenya Limited farm. There is huge interest in the Del Monte lands where more land is being targeted for both public and private takeovers.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

President William Ruto's declaration that his government will issue title deeds to beneficiaries of land owned by the American company Del Monte has complicated an already fluid situation.

Speaking in Murang'a County on Thursday, President Ruto said: "We will issue title deeds to residents to be settled on the land that the company will cede.
The controversy over Del Monte's land has been fuelled by the reluctance of relevant institutions and authorities to declare the actual acreage under the control of the pineapple grower and processor.

The debate over the land began when the Kandara Residents Association, through a petition by its secretary general, Mr Geoffrey Kairu, claimed that parts of Del Monte's land belonged to them but had been forcibly acquired and leased to the processor by unscrupulous individuals.

 The petition to Parliament and local activism have led to numerous fact-finding missions, but so far no common ground has been found and the actors have effectively ensured that the debate lacks coherent numbers to make decisions.
 Appearing before the lands committee in May 2022, then-cabinet secretary Farida Karoney said the government intended to renew the company's lease on 32,240 acres.

Read: MPs report on Del Monte land lays bare corruption, conflicting acreage figures
 But in its submissions, Del Monte said it sat on 22,500 acres, while the parliamentary committee said in its report that the processor sat on 20,000 acres, of which it added that it only used 14,000 acres.
The latest figures released on October 5, 2023, by the Lands Parliamentary Committee led by North Mugirango MP Joash Nyamoko indicated that Del Monte sat on 22,644 acres of land.
 It added that the company has since ceded 4,843 acres of land in Murang'a County and 2,696 acres in Kiambu.

Monkey business

The numbers being floated have heightened doubts among stakeholders, with some calling on the media to rail against the perceived shroud of monkey business around the issue, reading it as a potential grabbing scheme.
 This confusion was evident in President Ruto's speech on Thursday.  

"The acres we agreed to cede from Del Monte are now available, we will give the company the lease to proceed with its investment while we give the locals their land and titles," said the President.

Lands Cabinet Secretary Alice Wahome, who accompanied the President, said: "President Ruto's government is a listening and caring one and will only implement what seeks to promote the bottom-up economic model to transform lives while strictly adhering to the rule of law.

The Nyamoko report has since proposed a plan to share the land on a 70:30 basis, "with the residents getting the larger portion and the county government retaining the balance".
The committee endorsed the recommendation of the association, which submitted 1,930 names of intended beneficiaries from Gatanga, Thika West, Kandara and Maragua sub-counties.

"Having considered the evidence and submissions made, the departmental committee on land recommends that the excised land be allocated to the residents of Kandara and the county governments of Murang'a and Kiambu in the ratio of 70:30 as per the National Lands Commission (NLC) gazette 1995 of 2019 within 60 days of the adoption of this report," it reads in part.

In addition, three Murang'a politicians - Senator Joe Nyutu, Gatanga MP Edward Muriu and Kangema MP Peter Kihungi - have since spoken out on the issue, taking conflicting positions. Mr Nyutu and Mr Muriu want the ceded land to be given to Murang'a residents and titled, while Mr Kihungi wants the land to be banked as a public utility and used to resettle those displaced by the forcible acquisition of land for government projects.

"We want the acres of land that will be ceded to be given to Murang'a people from Gatanga and Kandara. What they do with it should be none of our business," said Mr Muriu.

The list to be allocated land includes victims from several villages in the area, identified as 600 in Gachogi, 400 in Lower Gatanga, 230 in Upper Gatanga, 200 each for Maragua, Matharau and Umoja and 100 in Makenji.

The issue has become such a hot potato in the county that politicians, administrators, brokers, businessmen and residents have formed rival groups over the land.

Mr Nyutu said, "The land to be issued should be divided into two - public utility, which will go to the county government, and private land, which will benefit the residents."
 Mr Nyutu said, "We should ensure that the two exercises are done simultaneously, not where the county gets its share as residents are kept waiting. ''

Mr Kihungi, however, believes that "the residents of Murang'a County should be interpreted from the point of view of inclusivity, where all seven constituencies are included in the benefit".
 Murang'a has the constituencies of Gatanga, Kandara, Maragua, Kigumo, Kiharu, Kangema and Mathioya.

 "There should be no land to be shared by individuals... There is nothing like free land. What we should have is that the land should revert to the county government and be subject to a spatial plan for current and future needs," Mr Kihungi recently told Inooro TV.

Mega dam projects

He added that some of the land should be used to resettle people from one of the seven constituencies who will be displaced by proposed mega-dam projects.
 But the constituencies are split between the north (Kiharu, Kangema and Mathioya) and the south (Gatanga, Kigumo, Kandara and Maragua).

 "Since Del Monte's land is in the south, those who are supposed to benefit are the residents of the area, not those from the north. All the land Del Monte is using was taken from farmers in Murang'a South," said Mzee Joram Kihika of Kandara.

As a former freedom fighter, he said the agitation for some land owned by foreign multinationals to be handed over to locals was "Mau Mau aspirations that have come too late".
 Former Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi said the issue was of great interest "and has far-reaching political and economic implications".
 He said the issue had become a political agenda for local politics in 2027, dividing the north and south.
On February 5, 2023, Murang'a County Commissioner Karuku Ngumo said some crooks were secretly selling the Del Monte land.

"There are a few individuals who have started selling Del Monte land to unsuspecting locals... These individuals are very bold and have even set up a brokerage office which I have since ordered to be demolished. There is no Del Monte land for sale," he warned.
 He said the said cartel had registered as Kabuku Sasa land buying and selling company and had put 443 acres up for sale.