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Fresh row over move to allocate Yala Swamp land to new investor

NYANZA
By Olivia Odhiambo | October 23rd 2021

Lake Kanyaboli and Yala swamp in Usenge, Siaya County. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

A row is brewing between local leaders, members of the community, and Siaya county government following a notice to allocate land within Yala Swamp to a new investor, Lake Agro Limited.

The National Land Commission (NLC) has issued a 30-day notice, from October 14, 2021, after which the land will be allocated to the new investor.

According to the notice, residents should send their views to the chairman of NLC and the Lands executive within 15 days.

Lake Agro Limited took over the swamp after Dominion Farms transferred its business lease to them in 2019. Dominion Farms vacated the swamp after suspending its operations on November 10, 2017, leaving more than 350 workers jobless.

The investor, Calvin Burgess (CEO Dominion farms limited), who had worked on the swamp for over 15 years cited political frustrations which he claimed had made it difficult to continue. NLC in the notice said that in absence of any valid objections, the allocation shall take place at their offices in Nairobi.

“The terms are available in the commissions’ office in Nairobi and the office of lands CEC in Siaya. The land is planned and the plans may be inspected at the same offices including the director of surveys offices,” read the notice.

Papyrus reeds harvesters at Yala Swamp, Siaya County. May 2015. [Hezron Ochiel, Standard]

The land is described as Usonga/Usonga/Usonga/Block1/8measuring 3698.1HA, Usonga/Usonga/Block1/7 measuring 419.5 HA, and Usonga/Usonga/Block 1/8 measuring 2646.14 HA, situated within Yala swamp, Siaya County.

But yesterday, MCAs Francis Otiato (Yimbo East) and Leonard Oriaro (Central Alego), whose wards lie within the swamp, claimed the process will not push through and termed it null and void.

The MCAs claimed there was no public participation before the government notice was released, and accused NLC of being conflicted on Yala Swamp issues. 

“The standard practice of appropriating any public land or community lands is that it must pass through the county assembly," he said.

Adding that, “When it comes to the county assembly it must be taken to the people for public participation, where they must give their views and then it comes back to us for necessary amendments, and then we adopt the report.”

Oriaro noted that it is only after all the processes are completed that the report is then taken back to the Executive, who approves it and then writes to NLC to put up a notice.

“This is dead on arrival. It is null and void and will not see the light of day. Someone close to Governor Cornel Rasanga should remind him, he cannot have his cake and eat it,” said Oriaro.

Kadenge village residents in Alego Usonga, Siaya County, ferry water drawn from Yala Swamp. November 2017. [Denish Ochieng, Standrd]

His counterpart, Otiato, said they had issues about Yala Swamp to an extent there are false beliefs that Yimbo people have no interest in that land, yet over 300 families were displaced and are yet to be compensated.

The local community had petitioned NLC to have the land returned to its original owners. The matter dates back to 2012 when two members of Yimbo Yala Swamp Farmers Society sued Dominion Farms Ltd.

The two complainants sought orders to have the American firm confined to the 3,700 hectares gazetted vide Gazette Notice No 2570 of September 4, 1970.

The county government allocated Sh10 million for survey and demarcation of Yala Swamp after the NLC ruling.

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