Taita Taveta: Leaders, residents protest at meagre payouts for wildlife attacks

A herd of elephants invade a farm. Nowhere is the traditional knowledge in biodiversity protection more relatable than in elephant conservation in Kenya and India.

Photo credit: File

In July, the government released Sh908 million to compensate victims of human-wildlife conflict in 46 districts.

As part of this package, Taita Taveta received Sh51 million to alleviate the suffering of those affected by wildlife attacks and destruction of property.

While some people affected by such conflicts have benefited financially, others are still waiting for help or have received meagre compensation.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Zeina Mnyapara, a farmer from Kirumbi village in Voi sub-county, recently received shockingly low compensation after waiting for more than seven years. She travelled to Voi town on Monday only to find that a mere Sh800 had been paid into her account to compensate her for the destruction of her crops by elephants in 2016. She used the money to buy a kilogram of sugar and maize flour, and to pay for her journey home.

"In the morning, I had paid Sh100 for my fare to Voi. With the money I received, I bought food and paid my fare. I did not have a single coin left," she said.

She said she did not understand how the district compensation committee could allocate the amount to her when the destruction on her farm was massive. She said she had spent a lot of money travelling to Voi to claim at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) offices, but the returns were insignificant.  Ms Mnyapara has been tirelessly seeking compensation for the damage caused by the elephants' invasion of her one-hectare farm. Her maize, cassava and vegetables were completely destroyed.

"My whole farm has been destroyed, but unfortunately the compensation from the government is meagre," she said.

Ms Mnyapara is among other victims in the region who have received meagre compensation from the government. Despite their efforts to improve their livelihoods, people in the region continue to suffer from the destruction of crops and property without adequate compensation. 

These wildlife invasions of Tsavo National Park have resulted in the loss of loved ones, destruction of crops and damage to property. The delayed compensation process has left residents disheartened and struggling financially.

Mnyapara expressed her frustration with the compensation process, saying she was exhausted from making repeated visits to KWS offices only to receive minimal compensation. "At the moment I have another compensation claim form that I wanted to submit to the KWS office in Voi. I am tired of going to the offices and getting peanuts as compensation," she said. 

KWS, through the Tsavo Conservation Area Senior Assistant Director Kennedy Ochieng, said the compensation once received is not final. According to Mr Ochieng, those affected can still approach the County Wildlife Conservation and Compensation Committee to lodge their complaints.

"There are channels to follow for them to have their cases heard. They can also come to my office," he said.

He explained that the compensation review is usually done by a team of members chaired by the district commissioner. He added that depending on the nature of the claim, government officials from different departments are assigned to determine the extent of damage to property, crops or injuries sustained.

Another farmer, John Mwabutanga, like many others, had hoped that the compensation would finally help them rebuild their lives and restore their devastated farms.  But he received a meagre Sh1,946 as compensation for his crops, which were destroyed in June 2016. He said he withdrew the money from his account on Monday after waiting seven years for the compensation.

He said it was disheartening that he had waited for years only to be insulted by meagre amounts that did not reflect the true extent of his losses. "When I received this insignificant amount of compensation, I felt completely defeated. How can I support my family and myself with such a trivial sum?" He said.

The frequent invasions, he said, had left him disillusioned and wondering how he could continue farming in such circumstances. "I have dedicated my life to farming, but the recurring elephant attacks have made it extremely difficult," he said.

Another farmer in Kirumbi, Lawrence Mazai, said he was struggling to rebuild his livelihood because of frequent elephant attacks.

He said he was shocked by the meagre compensation of Sh2,000 when his two-acre farm was destroyed by elephants in 2014. "I lost my entire farm to elephants and the compensation I received was barely enough to cover my losses. I had maize, groundnuts and cassava on the farm," he said.

The Wildlife Management and Conservation Act 2013 provides for the payment of Sh5 million to the next of kin of a family member who has died as a result of a wildlife attack, and up to Sh3 million for an injury that has resulted in permanent disability.

Owners of crops, property or livestock destroyed by wild animals receive compensation of the same value, subject to approval by the compensation committee. The disparity in compensation has sparked debate about the need for a fairer and more efficient system.

Voi MP Abdi Chome and his Mwatate counterpart Peter Shake called for greater community involvement to develop comprehensive strategies to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts.

MP Chome said the ongoing human-wildlife conflicts have taken a toll on the livelihoods of farmers, especially those living near protected areas. He noted that the government, through KWS, which is responsible for managing such conflicts, has failed to alleviate the burden on farmers in the area.

The MP said building stronger partnerships between communities and KWS was essential to finding sustainable solutions.

"The government needs to strike a balance between conservation efforts and protecting the livelihoods of farmers, which is crucial for sustainable development in the region," he said.

He called for less bureaucracy in the compensation process.  "I myself have a challenge in filling out the compensation form. What will happen to the residents who have little education?" He said.

His Mwatate counterpart, Peter Shake, criticised the compensation process, saying it lacked efficiency and transparency, leaving farmers feeling abandoned and helpless.

He said residents had complained of inconsistencies in the compensation process.  "I myself have a challenge in filling in the compensation form. What will happen to the residents who have little education?" He said.

His Mwatate counterpart, Peter Shake, criticised the compensation process, saying it lacked efficiency and transparency, leaving farmers feeling abandoned and helpless. He said residents had complained of inconsistencies in the compensation process.

"The long wait for compensation has taken a heavy toll on the lives of the victims. The government must find a way to address some of the losses immediately because the residents are suffering," he said.