Part XVI: Benefits of Small Scale Farming in Kenya

A large international tea estate near Kericho, Kenya. This land was taken from the Kipsigis under a 99 year lease which has just been renewed for another 99 years. The tea companies control 800,000 acres of land and employ 60,000 workers. Tea is Kenya’s largest export crop.

 Kenya is a large country but only 20% of the land is arable with the rest being arid and semi-arid. This is somewhat over 20 million acres. About half of this arable land, 10 million acres, were allocated to the mostly British settlers and companies in the so-called White Highlands. Early settlers like Lord Delamare were allocated up to 100,000 acres each. This land allocated to the settlers usually was the best land and that closest to the railroad for easy imports and exports.

The seizure of this land from the Kenyans was done by brute force. When the British were allocated land, the inhabitants on the land were either pushed off or made squatters/workers on the land that formerly had been theirs There was of course resistance by the Kenyans to this encroachment.

For example the Nandi, the tribe that lives just south and east of us in Lumakanda, resisted the longest between 1890 and 1906. The British Army attacked the Nandi. They conducted what would now be considered genocide. Please do not buy into the British myth that they were “benign” colonialists as they were just as brutal as the Germans, French, or Italians. Not only did they kill the Nandi warriors, but they burned their houses and farms, killed their cattle, goats, and sheep, and laid waste to the countryside. Many women and children starved to death after their sustenance were destroyed. The Nandi resistance ended, when on October 19, 1905, the British commander, Col Richard Meinertzhagen, invited the Nandi leader, Koitalel Arap Samoei and his advisors to a meeting to discuss a truce. When they arrived, rather than discuss peace, Meinertzhagen then killed in cold blood Arap Samoei and those with him. This brutal British history of expropriation of land by force also occurred in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and to a lesser extent in Zambia and Tanzania.

At Kenyan independence in 1963, elderly Kenyans could remember when their lands were dispossessed; younger people were also told the history by their parents and grandparents. It is therefore no wonder that the Mau Mau rebellion from 1952 to 1960 occurred mostly among the Kikuyu north of Nairobi whose very fertile, well watered lands had been seized by the British settlers.

This is the British settler’s house in downtown Lumakanda. It is now used for stores and offices.

With independence many Kenyans thought that their confiscated lands would be returned to them as the British settlers would be removed from their estates. In order to satisfy this demand, the British and Kenyan governments agreed to buy out British settlers and allocate their farms in small plots of around 20 acres to African small-scale farmers. This was called the “Million Acre Resettlement Scheme.” Lumakanda where we live is one of those areas where large farms were divided up so we live in an area of small farmers.

Yet there was still nine million acres of British farms which were not divided up. These were to be sold on a willing seller/willing buyer basis. Most of the British settlers, after their repressive rule in Kenya, panicked and sold out cheaply. The buyers, though, were the new Kenyan elite who had cooperated with the British and had jobs and businesses which gave them the funds necessary to buy out the British farmers. Much of this land therefore just changed from British settlers to Kenyan settlers and the old wounds were not addressed. This is part of the reason for the violence during elections in Kenya as the dispossessed again raise the issue of their lack of land. For example, in the post election violence after the 2007 election, the main issue near us was that the Nandi felt that the Kikuyu had invaded their land and the violence was Nandi warriors against new Kikuyu settlers and those whose ancestors had come to the area when they worked on the British settlers’ farms.

This is a picture of part of the Del Monte Company’s pineapple plantations. The company controls a total of 26,000 acres in two counties north of Nairobi. Their canned pineapples are one of the leading Kenyan exports. Their 99 year lease in now ending and the governors of the two counties where Del Monte’s land is are demanding that  Del Monte return unused land back to the counties and land along the major highway be given back to the county so that it can be used for development. This is still under negotiation.

The land issue due to the violent expulsion of the original inhabitants still festers actively in Kenya. Those large farms, held now by wealthy Kenyans and international companies, can easily be seen on the way to Nairobi by those many small farmers who own only a few acres. When elections come, local politicians looking for votes tell their tribesmen to “clean the fields of weeds” (meaning those Kenyans, particularly the Kikuyu, who did not originally live in the area). Violence then ensues.

In my opinion, many of those large farms should be bought up and divided into small-scale farms as was done after independence with the Million Acre Resettlement Scheme. As I have indicated in this series the result will not be only more equitable, but after settlement by scale-scale farmers, the land will be more productive than it is now.

Footnote: Please do not assume that that this dispossession of small-farmers’ land is only history. Yesterday I received a report from Uganda where more than 1000 people from 35 villages have been evicted. To read this report, please see Here is an excerpt from the report, “The community members were given an ultimatum of three hours to vacate the land amidst beatings and shootings from over 300 police and army officials. People’s houses were demolished, gardens destroyed and at least 27 people lost their lives women and children inclusive.”


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David Zarembka

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