You may remember the Tana River Delta. It hit international news channels about 9 months ago when many people were killed in clashes between rival communities over grazing rights.
These incidents highlighted a major problem in Kenya’s Coast Region – that of access to land. Now, these age old conflicts between communities are being made worse, as large areas of land are being snapped up by big companies and wealthy individuals.
But in the last few weeks we’ve received some good news from the Tana River Delta. Two major investors – Canadian owned Bedford Biofuels and the British G4 Industries – have opted out and closed up shop, signalling an end to their efforts to secure large amounts of land in the delta.
This is great news for the communities living there.
Not only has an important nature area been safeguarded, but the local farming communities will still have access to their land
It signals a turning tide for a region under threat, where large plots of land within the delta have been set aside for industrial scale farming and mining by the Kenyan Government, private agencies and international companies.
The area has been squeezed further, with settlement schemes taking up some of the most important dry season pastures within the delta, and communities from outside the pastoral areas settling there to undertake crop farming. This has no doubt exacerbated resourced conflicts such as the one witnessed last year, due to competition for ever shrinking common resources.
But whilst communities within the delta can breathe a little easier now that the threat of their land being taken has decreased, the area is still part of an international scramble as companies and agencies race to exploit its riches to produce crops for export, biofuels and minerals.
Other companies are still trying to take advantage of the fertile land that the delta has to offer.
The Mumias Sugar Company, Kenya’s biggest sugar company, has plans to turn 40,000 hectares of the delta into a sugar cane plantation and other companies are trying to follow suit.
It’s our land!
But the communities are fighting back and protecting their land.
Following a campaign by ActionAid Kenya and other partners in 2011, the growing of jatropha for biofuels was banned in the Coast Region.
We were also able to stop an Italian company called Nuove Iniziative Industriali from taking land which is home to a community of 20,000 people in the nearby Dakatcha Woodlands.
This was a massive victory for the people of Dakatcha who campaigned heavily not to lose their homes and farmland
But there’s more that can be done.
Over 75% of the land in the coastal region is classed as Trust Land, which under a new law should now belong to the communities that live and farm the land.
That’s why we’re working with the communities of the Tana River Delta region to make them aware of the change in laws.
By knowing their rights, the people living in the delta can put an end to big companies grabbing their land without permission.