Salt mines destroy Kenyan farmers’ lives

This is a video about the environment in Kenya.

From the Sunday Nation in Kenya:

Kenya: Poverty Rises As Malindi Salt Mines Expand

Mazera Ndurya

14 November 2009

Nairobi — The lords of Malindi salt mines have been riding roughshod over area residents with impunity. Beneath the veneer of the successful mining firms are tales of hopelessness as many local residents are living under the fear of eviction, environmental-induced illnesses, human rights violations and general exploitation.

Residents who talked to the Sunday Nation said they were worse off today than when the mining companies began operations in the 1980s. Areas that some years ago were covered by mangrove, cashew, and mango trees and coconut palms have been reduced to bare ground as more land is cleared to mine salt.

From a distance, heaps of silvery unrefined salt dominate the extensive and well tended pans that can be seen from the Malindi-Garissa road.

Blocking routes

High perimeter walls are under construction a few metres from the road, blocking some of the routes used by residents of Magarini to get to their fields and the sea for their fishing expeditions.

When Prime Minister Raila Odinga visited Kanagoni in Magarini on November 12, he ordered salt firms in the district to demolish all dykes holding water from flowing into the sea and to open access routes to the beach for residents.

The Prime Minister, who inspected a Sh50 million bridge under construction in the area, said the dykes contributed to road disasters. “These dykes prevent flood water from reaching the sea causing a resurge upstream. I order that from tomorrow (Friday), all dykes are removed, and I instruct the provincial administration to make sure this is done,” he said.

The area MP and minister for East African Cooperation, Amason Kingi, said of the nine salt companies operating in the area, only Krystaline and Malindi Salt had responded to a plea to assist 4,000 victims of floods in the area. Several years after a human rights report on the impact of salt mining and recommendations to better the lives of local people in Magarini, nothing has been done.

Constant fear

On the small parcels of land that used to provide vegetables for the budding tourist town of Malindi and the outlying areas, people scrape out a living under constant fear of being evicted by companies that want to extend their land to extract more salt.

The residents are partly blaming their predicament on the lack of title deeds to their land which has made it easier for investors to collude with unscrupulous government officials to force them off the land they have called home for many years.

During a public inquiry by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights in 2005, land was one of the main topics of discussion. In the commission’s findings was that post-colonial administration perpetuated injustices against the community by leasing land to salt manufacturers.

Even as they did this, the community was left without recourse to alternative and equally arable land. The inquiry found that the legal basis which allowed the state not to compensate the people for land leased to farms was an unjust law because the community had the de facto ownership and use of the land for many generations.

In its recommendations, the KNCHR urged the government to make an accurate inventory of communities or descendants and start the process of adjudication to enable the community to stake a claim on the land under the Land Titles Act. “Areas deemed to be government land be re-designated as trust land and be subjected to adjudication,” the inquiry recommended in its report that was handed to President Kibaki.

None of the recommendations has been implemented, and the community feels the exercise was just another public relations gimmick meant to hoodwink the public into believing that their problems were being sorted out.

Francis Tunje Munemo, a farmer who inherited a piece of land from his father, is counting losses as cashew nut, coconut and mango trees are drying up due to what he said were the effects of salt water seeping into the neighbouring farms.

Also affected, he said, are wells that have now become saline, forcing residents to either walk longer distances in search of water or to buy it at very high cost from vendors. “We started seeing changes in food production, but the problem is that there has been no report on the impact of salt mining, even after sending requests to relevant government agencies.

“About half of the land that used to produce enough for the family and excess for sale is not producing enough for domestic consumption, and we suspect it is because of the interference by salt mining,” Mr Tunje said.

According to Kadzo Ngumbao, a former worker on the salt farms and whose land was taken and crops destroyed, residents were supposed to be paid for property lost in the expansion of the salt farms. The ministry of Agriculture, according to her, was to assess the damage to crops so that they could be paid according to the prevailing market rates.

“We were evicted from our homes and had to settle elsewhere, and when the recommendations were made about compensation, we were optimistic, but nobody seems to care any more,” she said.

Another resident, Thomas Angore, said when they were first approached by government officials to let salt firms mine, they were upbeat that they would get employment for their youth and a market for their produce.

“But within a short time, the land that we thought was our own was taken because we did not have title deeds. We were not given alternative plots after being evicted from our ancestral land.

“The working conditions in the salt farms deteriorated with most workers reporting poor health conditions, including premature deliveries and miscarriages among women who were associated with mining,” Mr Angore said.

He said the recommendations of the inquiry were good, and the residents thought their issues would be addressed. But, he said, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Working on the salt farms, according to former workers, is tedious and dangerous, but the pay is so low many are quitting.

Those who continue working because they have nothing else to do for a living gave heart-rending stories of injuries and health complications that they have been forced to contend with in order to put food on the table.

Sidi Mumba, who has quit, said some of the health complications start as minor boils that degenerate into wounds that take a long time to heal. Efforts to obtain get access to the farms were futile as guards manning the gates had instructions from the management not to allow anyone who was not a worker onto the premises.

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