Kenya’s il­le­gal sand min­ers de­stroy farms to plun­der scarce re­source

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Ev­ery day dozens of trucks roar into Kalingile vil­lage in south­west Kenya and mo­ments later speed off down a dirt road laden with tons of sand ready to sup­ply to con­struc­tion mar­kets, leav­ing acres of de­stroyed farm­land in their wake.

As Kenya’s boom­ing con­struc­tion in­dus­try has seen de­mand for sand soar to record lev­els, it has put pres­sure on agri­cul­tural land and other sources of sand na­tion­wide, prompt­ing sand har­vesters to in­vade farms for the rare com­mod­ity, stud­ies show.

Years of un­con­trolled sand min­ing in riverbeds at a rate that out­paces nat­u­ral re­plen­ish­ment have de­pleted sand de­posits in the rivers of coun­ties sur­round­ing the cap­i­tal, Nairobi. The scarcity has left sand min­ers with no op­tion but to dredge for sand on farm­land, an il­le­gal busi­ness that has fu­elled the con­struc­tion in­dus­try but threat­ens the liveli­hoods of thou­sands of small-scale farm­ers whose land it de­stroys.

Kalingile vil­lage, in Ma­voko con­stituency, 47 km (26 miles) east of Nairobi, is among many ar­eas of Kenya that have been tar­geted by sand har­vesters. The il­le­gal ac­tiv­ity has left hun­dreds of farm­ers scrap­ing a liv­ing from tiny parcels of land.

Stephen Mulinge, a farmer who now works an acre of land in the area, said he had lost four acres to sand min­ers who left his land bar­ren af­ter in­vad­ing his farm un­der cover of dark­ness. “When I re­fused to let them mine sand on my farm, they came at night, dredged and loaded to trucks,” Mulinge, 42, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

He said il­le­gal sand har­vest­ing in the area had led to the de­struc­tion of veg­e­ta­tion, re­duced fer­tile land and farm pro­duc­tiv­ity and ex­posed the com­mu­nity to food in­se­cu­rity. “Out of my five-acre farm, only an acre is un­der pro­duc­tion the rest has been turned to pits and trenches and can’t be put to agri­cul­tural use,” Mulinge said.

The area is es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to il­le­gal sand min­ing be­cause it is near mar­kets and lo­cated on a trans­port route that makes it cheap to move sand from the area, he said. As de­mand for sand con­tin­ues to soar, the com­mu­nity fears the ex­trac­tion of sand on their farms is not about to end soon, de­spite the en­act­ment of the Machakos County Sand Har­vest­ing Act in 2014, which sought to reg­u­late the har­vest­ing of sand.

Il­le­gal sand sites

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment Man­age­ment Au­thor­ity (NEMA), re­cent leg­is­la­tion on sand min­ing at the na­tional and county lev­els have helped to reg­u­late the in­dus­try. “We have is­sued restora­tion or­ders in sev­eral il­le­gal sand sites and sum­moned some of the cul­prits to our of­fices,” Ti­tus Simiyu, NEMA Machakos County Di­rec­tor for En­vi­ron­ment, said.

“The au­thor­ity has to con­duct en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment re­port be­fore award­ing a li­cense to sand har­vesters.” Simiyu added that new na­tional guide­lines in 2007 had also helped to reg­u­late un­con­trolled sand min­ing across Kenya. “It’s un­for­tu­nate that some of these sand deal­ers are en­gaged in il­le­gal sand har­vest­ing de­spite the many aware­ness cam­paigns we have con­ducted in the area,” Simiyu said.

How­ever, de­spite new laws that are sup­posed to en­sure sand is har­vested and used sus­tain­ably, il­le­gal sand min­ing has gone on un­abated in Machakos, said Mulinge. “There is noth­ing we can do; we have com­plained to au­thor­i­ties with­out much help. Some of these car­tels are so pow­er­ful and crooked they will use what­ever means to get sand with or with­out our con­sent,” Mulinge said.

The law re­stricts sand min­ing be­tween 6am and 6pm, but farm­ers said il­le­gal min­ers avoid ar­rest by har­vest­ing at night. The Act states: “On-farm sand har­vest­ing shall only be un­der­taken by open-cast har­vest­ing method and no un­der­ground tun­nel­ing or ex­trac­tion of sand shall be un­der­taken.”—Reuters

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