MACHAKOS, Kenya, Oct 5 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Every
day dozens of trucks roar into Kalingile village in southwest
Kenya and moments later speed off down a dirt road laden with
tonnes 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 licence 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."
While most local farmers say sand extraction harms their
livelihoods, land owner Kevin Mboya is making money from it.
"I have no problem with sand miners as long as they pay for
the sand before harvesting it," Mboya said.
Mboya, who owns eight acres of land, said that as erratic
weather patterns have made it harder to rely on farming that
depends on rainfall, sand harvesting has brought a new income.
"If I can fetch around $15 per every truck loaded with sand,
this is better business than having to wait for rains that you
are not sure will come," he said.
High rates of poverty in the area have led most of the
farmers to hand over their farms for sand harvesting.
"With these high levels of poverty and uncertain weather
conditions we don't see extraction of sand on farms coming to an
end any time soon," Mboya said.
Even though extraction is rendering agricultural land
barren, some sand harvesters insist they always get prior
permission from the land owners.
"We have always sought consent from land owners. The deals
are done above board and with due process. This is like any
other business where willing seller meets willing buyer," said
Eric Mutisya, a sand miner who has pitched tent in the area.
However, he says that in some cases mining takes place
without the owner's consent especially if he is not at the farm.
"These are isolated cases carried out by rogue harvesters
who are in a hurry to make a killing. They scoop sand
anticipating paying the owner at a later date," he said.
(Reporting by Shadrack Kavilu; Editing by Jo Griffin.; Please
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