FRAGILE RESOURCE

NGO at odds with NLC over controversial allocation of Yala Swamp

Grounds for objections were rooted in human rights violations.

In Summary

•Nature Kenya Executive Director Dr Paul Matiku's investment should not supersede the ecological well-being of Yala Swamp and the livelihoods of local communities.

•NLC was last week expected to announce its position on the controversial allocation of 6,763.74 ha of Yala Swamp to Lake Agro Ltd.

YALA SWAMP: Dominion rice fields are sprayed. Wetlands also ideal for sugar cane. Image: FILE.
YALA SWAMP: Dominion rice fields are sprayed. Wetlands also ideal for sugar cane. Image: FILE.

Conservation NGO Nature Kenya has faulted the National Land Commission for going ahead and allocating Yala Swamp to Lake Agro Ltd.

Nature Kenya Executive Director Dr Paul Matiku's investment should not supersede the ecological well-being of Yala Swamp and the livelihoods of local communities.

NLC was last week expected to announce its position on the controversial allocation of 6,763.74 ha of Yala Swamp to Lake Agro Ltd.

The anticipated announcement followed recent public hearings convened by the NLC in Nairobi and Siaya to discuss the matter.

Matiku faulted NLC for going against those who objected to the allocation.

“Many stakeholders, including local communities and government agencies, explicitly expressed objection to the allocation during these hearings,” he said.

Matiku said that during the public hearings conducted by NLC, 21 entities, including community, civic and governmental organizations, presented strong objections to the proposed allocation.

Their grounds for objections were rooted in human rights violations, threats to community livelihoods, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, as captured in NLC's paper.

But, the NLC has ignored all the objections. Who is NLC representing? The people or the developer?”

Matiku said Kenyans expect NLC to make a decision that respects the constitutional ownership rights of the communities in Yala, recognizes the ecological value of Yala Swamp, and promotes the preservation of the wetland for prosperity.

“Anything short of these minimal expectations is unacceptable and should be rejected.”

Matiku said top on the list of concerns is the failure to subject the proposed land allocation to any Environmental Impact Assessment as required by law.

“Local communities, represented by the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group, the Yala Indigenous and Community Conservation Area Committee and the Yala Farmers Committee, view the EIA omission as illegality. Their view was supported by the National Environment Management Authority in its submissions,” he said.

Matiku said the communities had emphasized the unconstitutionality of the proposed allocation as it violated their indigenous land ownership rights.

“Also of concern to the communities is the threat posed by the intended allocation to their livelihoods. Close to 250,000 people living within the wetland's vicinity benefit from its vital resources. These include fish, cultivated crops, freshwater, fuel wood, livestock fodder, construction materials and natural medicines,” he said.

Matiku said a land-use plan for the Yala Swamp is in place adding that the negotiated document provides a framework to guide the sustainable use of resources within the swamp and surrounding areas.

“Part of the land included in the proposed allocation is designated an ICCA, as per the Tala Delta Land Use Plan. All land allocations within the wetland ought to align to the land-use plan, stakeholders noted in their objection,” he said.

Matiku reiterated that the Yala Swamp is a wetland of great ecological importance to Kenya, its neighbours and Africa.

“The swamp acts as a filter for waters flowing into Lake Victoria. It also stores water in times of floods and releases it during drought periods. These and other valuable environmental services Yala Swamp offers to make it an asset to be treasured for present and future generations. Nature Kenya stressed this when submitting its objection.”

Matiku said a host of birds, fish and wild animals call Yala Swamp home.

Two endangered Cichlid only exist in lakes within the wetland.

Matiku said the Swamp is one of the few refuges in Kenya for the Sitatunga, a rare swamp-dwelling antelope as well as large flocks of wetland birds, including globally threatened birds that live only in papyrus swamps, inhabit the swamp.

“Nature Kenya, Kenya Wildlife Service and other conservation players view the proposed allocation as a big threat to the wetland's biodiversity.”

Matiku wondered why NLC decided to allocate the swamp having listened to submissions from the numerous stakeholders; saying the work of the commission was clearly cut out.

He said the objection to the proposed land allocation is stronger than ever, as attested during the public hearings.

Matiku said the move by NLC is a Violation of the Rights of Indigenous Communities.

“The intended move by NLC grossly violates the rights and betrays the trust of indigenous Yala communities - the rightful custodians of the communal land, compromises the communities' livelihoods and threatens the wetland's unique biodiversity,” he said.

Matiku said NLC in its determination paper 24 said that the Siaya County Government applied to allocate the parcels of land to Lake Agro Ltd with a contested Part Development Plan and Survey Plans.

He said NLC acknowledged that public participation concerns were raised during the planning process.

Matiku said as part of its determination on the matter, NLC instructs the Siaya County Government to submit to it, within two weeks, detailed evidence of multi-stakeholder, inclusive and meaningful public participation in the planning process.

“It is well known to NLC that the surveys done by the Siaya County Government on the parcels allocated to Lake Agro Ltd were dubiously conducted, with little input from the communities. As such, any request for evidence of the same from NLC equates to insincerity and trivialization of the issue and betrayal of trust bestowed to them by the communities.”

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