Locals defy Raila’s advice on Yala swamp, to sue NLC over land lease

Yala Swamp

Farmers during a past demonstration about the Yala Swamp on July 15, 2009. The farmers are opposed to the 66-year lease given to an investor to take charge of the swamp.      

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Mr Dancun Ouma, 58, from Sakwa clan in Bondo Sub-county is a worried man after the National Lands Commission (NLC) leased the Yala Swamp for 66 years to Lake Agro Limited.

For 17 years, he has been cultivating a two-acre piece at the periphery of the Swamp, and his life has been dependent on it.

Together with other 400 farmers, he acquired the piece of land after the former investor, Dominion Farm, allowed them to clear papyrus and cultivate it.

Their main worry is that the NLC has allocated 6,899.2 hectares (three portions) to Lake Agro for investment purposes. This is almost twice the 3,700 hectares that Dominion Farms occupied.

“We are worried because the new investor might get into the portions that some of the community members are cultivating. The farm is everything to us. It is our sole source of livelihood,” lamented Mr Ouma.

Community opinion leaders who have been fighting for the swamp to be registered as a community land from its current state as a government trust land, however, believe there are powerful people –mainly politicians and businessmen – who are out to benefit from the deal at the expense of the poor community.

“Leaders are quiet. The businessmen are quiet when they know how important this land is to us. We have information that some of them have already acquired hundreds of acres and will cultivate them together with the investor,” said a community leader who sought anonymity.

The community, during a public participation held in June, objected to earlier plans to lease the land for a period of 99 years, arguing that the period was too long.

The Community Initiative Action Group (Ciag), which is one of the objectors, said through its director Chris Owala that they would proceed to court.

“We shall sue the NLC, the individual commissioners and county government of Siaya. There are lots of illegalities in the lease process that the community objected to, yet the commissioners overlooked,” said Mr Owala in a phone interview.

He added, “Why is the NLC forcing Lake Agro Limited down our throats? What do the commissioners know that we don’t ? We demanded that the Yala land be registered as a community land before it is leased out. Currently, it is registered as a government trust land.”

Mr Owala is also objecting to the decision to change the property name from Yala Swamp to Usonga/Usonga block.

Others like Mr Alfred Ayiro representing the Community Wildlife Committee opposed to the planting of sugarcane by the new investor, saying it is detrimental to the environment because of the water uptake and the agrochemicals used.


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