Salt firms face trouble in Kilifi land lease row

Kensalt Limited

Workers at salt mines in Magarini sub-county in Kilifi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Salt companies operating in Kilifi have been dealt a major blow after the county government declined to renew their land leases.

Kilifi Governor Gideon Mung’aro said he would not renew the expired leases until the industry is streamlined to benefit the locals.

“I have turned down requests of those whose leases have expired and have asked for a renewal to continue harvesting. This time around, anyone in the salt industry must ensure the people benefit directly. We must streamline this sector,” said Mr Mung’aro.

He did not say which firms have been affected but nearly all the big salt firms in Kenya have operations in the county.

The area under salt ponds increased by 1159.38 hectares between 1986 and 2000 and by 850.58 hectares between 2000 and 2018.

For decades the investors have found themselves embroiled in disputes with locals over land ownership. Campaigners also blame salt harvesting for fuelling environmental degradation.

Some residents meanwhile claim they were forcefully evicted by salt companies after encroaching on their farms.

In the latest standoff, the county administration is demanding that anyone who wants to start a salt production company in Kilifi County give shareholding to the local people.

“That is what we doing in Kaya Fungo in Kaloleni Sub-County, where we have taken 3,000 acres to build an industry. Kilifi County is among the shareholders so that people don’t reap from our lands and benefit fully,” he added.

The county administration will meet investors in the salt sector next week to deliberate on the new changes, which the governor said take effect immediately.

“They must respect the people living near those salt belts. Companies that have encroached should stop and allow passage so that residents in the salt belt areas access the beach roads. I will resolve challenges affecting residents living near the salt belts,” said Mr Mung’aro.

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