Part XIX: Benefits of Small-Scale Farming in Kenya

Squatter houses on our way to Eldoret. Notice the simple construction of mud and wattle with grass roof and very small plot.

If you have been reading my series of articles on small-scale farming, I hope you have been convinced of the benefits it has for the people in Kenya. Unfortunately this excludes those people who are landless and are unable to benefit from the possibilities of owning a piece of land. Also unfortunately this is a large number of people.

Why are people landless? The original cause of landlessness was at the beginning of the twentieth century when the British settlers took over half of the arable land in Kenya. Anyone who remained on the land became “squatters” with no right to their former land whatsoever. The settlers needed labor so they were willing to allow a certain number of people to remain on the land. They could be evicted at any time, performed only manual labor with low compensation, and consequently were unable to prosper. There are now over ten times the number of people in Kenya as at the beginning of the last century so these squatters and their descendants have increased substantially. There are estimates that over 5% of the Kenyan population are squatters living in rural areas. This is more than two million people.

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These are not the only landless. When a women’s husband dies, the wife and her children are frequently ousted from the husband’s plot by the brother-in-laws. The woman can return to her father’s place, but she has no right to land there. If she has girls, they may perhaps marry a man who has access to land, but her sons will be landless.

Other people leave their homestead because of family disputes. The media is full of conflicts among family members over land. Those that make the media are frequently due to violence because of land. The losers have to leave and join the landless.

In some cases the land has been subdivided into such small plots that each family cannot do much more than build a house on their allotment. This is particular the case from Gladys’ home area, Viyalo, which has been overpopulated since the 1920s. As a result many of Gladys’ relatives and neighbors have purchased land elsewhere including many near Lumakanda. Some of those who did not have the resources to purchase land have moved to Nairobi or other main towns, frequently living in the slums.

One positive attribute of small-scale Kenyan farmers is that they will not borrow money using the security of their land as collateral. Consequently, unlike India, for example, people do not lose their land to the moneylenders.  

Charles Kunukha, the leader of 1,500 squatters in Mautuma, 15 kilometers (10 miles) from our house speaks last year to the squatters. They had invaded the Lugari forest and in 1994 the Kenyan government promised each family five acres. Yet they have been given only 2 acres each. They are demanding title deeds for their plots since they are afraid the government will expel them from the forest as it has in other places in Kenya where squatters have invaded forest land.

The landless well realize the benefits of owning land and are desperate to acquire it. They move on to any land that seems vacant or unused. For example, one of the major contentious problems in Kenya is landless people who seize land in the forests at the top of the seven water towers in Kenya. As they cut down the forest the rain, rather than being absorbed in the ground leading to flowing streams whose water is used by people downstream, rushes downhill and the streams dry up in the dry season. For example Transforming Community for Social Change is currently dealing with farmers on Mt. Elgon who are diverting all the water in a stream so that people lower down from the mountain have no water during the dry season. This has a potential for violence as the waterless people are desperate. The fact that these two groups are different tribes makes the situation particularly prone to violence.

A picture of Kibera slum in Nairobi with an estimated population of 250,000 people. Notice on the horizon the large office buildings of Nairobi’s central business district.

As noted above many of the landless are forced to move to the slums in Nairobi and the other major cities and towns. It is estimated that up to sixty percent of the four million Nairobians live in its more than its 200 slums. This then is at least two and a half million people. Other cities and towns also have substantial slums. While many consider this move from the rural countryside to urban areas as a positive movement, in the case of Kenya I can see this only as a very negative development as more and more people are squeezed into the current slums and newly developing ones. These people mostly live through day labor when they can get it. Life is precarious. They spend fifty percent or more of their income on food and, when the price of food rises as it did last year during the drought, their lives become even more precarious.

I would then estimate that over twenty-five percent of the Kenyan population is landless. This is one of the major problems in Kenya leading to poverty, unrest, and high levels of violence. While there is much talk about this problem, the solutions are difficult to implement so that little is accomplished by either the government or non-government organizations. These solutions are merely bandaids rather than addressing the roots of the problem. The government sometimes buys a large farm and divides it up into small plots for those who have been evicted elsewhere. This is usually quite contentious because the local people near the large farm feel that “foreigners” (i.e., people from a different tribe or clan) are invading their area.

As I have indicated in these Reports, small-scale farming produces higher yields than large commercial farms. I would recommend that a new Million Acre Settlement Scheme be implemented. Due to increased need, the average plot should be about five acres rather than the twenty acres in the original scheme. If done properly, this could accommodate one million to two million landless people.

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DONATE

To make a tax deductible (US) or gift aid eligible (UK) donation through GlobalGiving,

For Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC), click on goto.gg/31755

      To support Peacemaking with Samburu Warriors, click on goto.gg/35909

      To donate to TCSC by M-pesa go to Pay Bill: 891300, Account: GG31755

For the Friends Women’s Association (FWA), click on goto.gg/31891

     To support Building FWA’s Maternity Ward, click on goto.gg/32980

For Innovations in Peacemaking – Burundi (IPB), click on goto.gg/33287

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David Zarembka

Transforming Community for Social Change (TCSC)

Phone 254 (0)726 590 783
Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

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healingandrebuildingourcommunities.org (Rwanda)

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