What you need to know:
- Villages on the upper side suffering due to flooding, while those on the lower side are facing water shortages.
- Farm manager says he is ready to allow the community to desilt the canals but has asked for a clear schedule.
Deputy President William Ruto's farm has been cited as one of the threats to the survival of Lake Jipe in Taita Taveta County, following the decision by the management to block vital canals that feed the lake.
On Wednesday, Water Resources Management Authority (Warma) officials were forced to arbitrate between the community and Kisima farm in Jipe after farmers and fishermen complained over dwindling water levels in the lake.
Led by Mata member of the County Assembly (MCA) Chanzu Kamadi, the residents petitioned Warma claiming that the farm's manager, Mr Aries Dempers, had refused to allow the county government to unblock four tributaries that feed Grogan canal, which then feeds the lake.
The farmers also accused the management of blocking the canals, causing flooding in four villages in Mata and Jipe.
The county government has set aside Sh5 million to unblock Lesesia, Sembike, Sombasomba, and Maloja canals, to increase water levels at the lake.
The MCA said desilting would unblock the canals after the water levels of the lake went down. The desilting will also reduce flooding and increase food security on the lower side of Mata ward.
Mr Kamadi said villages on the upper side of the canal were suffer flooding while those on the lower side were facing shortage of water for irrigation due to the farm block the canals.
"We went to Warma after the management refused to amicably resolve this matter with us. We have had meetings with stakeholders but we did not get any response from the farm," he said.
This is not the first time the manager is at loggerheads with the community. In 2019, Mr Dempers was accused of storming a local mosque armed with a rifle and stopped early morning prayers.
He was also accused of harassing a family during a burial. He claimed they were making noise with a public address system.
Last year, the manager was accused of diverting water from pipes and then denying county government officials access to fix the problem. Residents in Jipe had to walk long distances in search of water.
However, speaking at the Wednesday meeting, Mr Dempers said no one had approached him concerning the water.
He said he was ready to allow the community to desilt the canals but asked for a clear schedule on how it would be done.
"No one has asked me for permission to enter the farm. I am ready to allow them, even today," he said.
Kachero Assistant Chief Sharia Bwire, however, said efforts to engage the investor have been futile since 2019.
"I sent a village elder to ask him to remove the debris that he had used to block the canal, but he refused. He said he wanted a court order before he can do that," he said.
A farmer, Mr Lawrent Kipesha said the blocking of Sombasomba canal had occasioned him huge losses due to flooding. Before 2019, he said, he made huge profits from his farm, which had banana and coconut trees. He would sell the produce at markets in Mombasa and Nairobi.
"After the canal was blocked, my farm was flooded and I lost everything. I have never gone back," he said.
Warma officials, led by Mr Valentine Okoth, from Nolturesh Lumi, said they would ensure the project continues.
Breaks water laws
Mr Okoth said Mr Dempers had not refused to allow the unblocking.
"The investor has told us that he has never been approached by the community for permission to access the farm. We will ensure that he keeps his word," he said.
Water officer John Kinyua said all farmers must seek permission from Warma to use water in the area.
The farmers accused Warma of shielding the farm which has refused to work with the community since 2019, causing untold suffering for fishermen, farmers and pastoralists in the area.
"We want the authority to tell us how long it takes for them to act when one breaks water laws. We have been complaining since 2019, yet no action has been taken," said a farmer, Mr Peter Mkamati.
The DP bought the land from former MP Basil Criticos, and has stocked hundreds of beef cattle on the farm. The farm intends to introduce fish, poultry and maize farming.
The 1, 000-acre farm is in Mata ward, neighbours Lake Jipe and borders thousands of acres of land owned by Mr Criticos.