Nelly Bassily | June 15, 2009
Many people see Kenya’s Tana River Delta as underdeveloped. They look at the vast stretch of fertile land and see potential. In recent years, there have been several proposals to develop the land – from sugarcane to shrimp farming, from rice fields to biofuels.
But locals say the land is already in use. Farmers grow crops and pastoralists graze livestock. In the dry season, herders come from neighbouring provinces in search of pasture and water. These people say the land is not for sale. Governments and potential investors are starting to listen.Last December, the Kenyan government struck a deal with the government of Qatar. In exchange for a loan to build a new port, Qatar would receive 40,000 hectares of land in the Tana River Delta. Now, government officials maintain that the deal is not set in stone.
Most of the Tana River Delta belongs to the government. But communities have been using the land since before Kenya was a state. They say customary law makes it theirs.
International analysts are noticing a global increase in this kind of resistance. Marie Bos is a researcher at the Gulf Research Center in the United Arab Emirates. She says local protests have proved that land deals are not simple.
O.B. Sisay is an analyst with Exclusive Analysis in the United Kingdom. His company assesses commercial risks and opportunities. He says resistance to land grabs suggests that wealthy nations would be better off focusing on their own farmland.
The Kenyan government, meanwhile, says it is still negotiating with Qatar. A government spokesperson said that Kenya is asking Qatar to develop land in the delta to grow crops for domestic consumption. This would be in addition to the land that Qatar wants to use to grow food for export.
For more information on the issue of land grabbing, and a discussion of how local resistance helped stop a proposed land grab in Madagascar, see the Notes to Broadcasters from last week’s FRW: http://weekly.farmradio.org/2009/06/08/notes-to-broadcasters-on-farmland-grabbing/.