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Columnists

Large productive farms should be preserved, protected

Tea plantation Tigoni
Tea plantation Tigoni in Kiambu county. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

My December holiday was committed to relaxing and light travel. In keeping with this spirit, I decided to take an easy drive through a route I haven’t used before. So I found myself and family doing the Nairobi-Ruaka-Banana road, past Kentmere Club and onto the Tigoni greens.

Once here my wife excitedly recollects and points out her alma mater Loreto High School, Limuru. Loreto still stands out and continues to grow great women leaders. At Limuru, we veer right and onto a totally unfamiliar zone. In a short while, the road opens to some lush green sprawling tea farms on either side. A feeling of total freshness hit us.

The beauty was compelling. I quickly sought consensus to stop over and capture the beautiful tea farms on camera and enjoy the breeze, even if for a short while. I love the images I captured every time I review them. Hardly a kilometre ahead, we meet locals and foreigners, certainly captivated by the striking beauty of the tea farms along the road and over the ridges, taking ‘selfies’ and group photos at various strategic points.

This is home to Karirana tea estates, famous for Eden Tea. From this high vantage ground, one has a good panoramic view towards Nairobi. We then returned to Nairobi for lunch through Ndumberi and Kiambu. Tour firms should consider escalating this two hour route, on very smooth road, for business. A morning drive from the city can see tourists traverse diverse terrain, experience breath-taking beauty and capture memorable images of vegetation and settlements before getting back to the city for late morning tea or lunch.

Locals with some little time to spare can also treat themselves to this refreshing drive in the afternoons before retiring to their popular evening joints. Of course I digressed purposefully.

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To capture the picturesque zone and to underscore that good and intensive land use can turn otherwise ordinary plains and valleys into great productive farms and agro-processing zones! This takes financial investments and smart labour.

Those who have driven through the Nairobi-Nanyuki-Meru and the Nanyuki-Rumuruti-Maralal roads will have seen zones where derelict land has been converted to large investments of pineapple and wheat farms, or vast livestock ranches, to look good and productive. You see this in parts of Kericho, Nandi and Trans-Nzoia counties too, among others.

Keen observers of the productive systems, and the food chains associated with most of these large and usually mechanised farms, will agree that this is a critical component of our economy.

But once the farms are fragmented, reversion, or restoration of the associated production, will be hard to realise. With the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, we gave county governments power over the planning and determination of the renewal of leases to land within their boundaries.

So every individual or company with lands on which thrives the above farms, if under leasehold tenure, will have to get the approval of the county governments to renew the leases once their expiry term is nigh.

And in a number of places, there have been claims of historical land injustices filed against land on which stands such farms. In others, competing priority needs, such as the expansion of urban centers or other emerging essential land uses, have redirected attention to the farms. But I urge the national and county governments, and those who may want to view such land for subdivision and settlements, to exercise great caution in making decisions over it. Indeed, policy should be shaped to overtly protect the tenure of productive large farms. In overseeing discussions on historical claims over land, the national land commission must also get out of its way to explore alternative remedies, away from reallocation of the land. Provisions of the applicable law do allow.

The writer is chairman, Land Development and Government Institute.

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