- In a draft land reclamation policy, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has outlined measures it will take to ensure sand harvesting does not kill streams
Lampira Apida is located on the shores of Lake Victoria along the Katito-Kendu Bay Road.
On a visit to this place in Homa Bay County, some 450 kilometres south-west of Nairobi, you meet groups of shirtless young men scooping sand from dry river beds, which they later sale.
A tonne of sand goes for an average of Sh150. Going by the construction boom in nearby urban centres, their mounds of sand keep on disappearing as many trucks come to collect the building material.
The area residents say sand is a godsend because it provides them with daily bread.
“At least I can be sure that I will get food today as long as I wake up early and collect some sand,” says Jimmy Odera, a resident who has been in the business of sand harvesting since he left high school four years ago.
The lake, which used to provide livelihood for many, has been overwhelmed with water hyacinth, meaning that fishing is no longer possible.
While local residents continue to eke out a living from sand, the result of this activity is an eyesore.
The river, snaking from the nearby hills, has become a gulley. As harvesters dig deeper, they leave behind a series of gaping holes that make the stream water stagnate.
Apida is just one of the many places where sand harvesting is creating more problems than benefits.
The National Environment Management Authority (Nema) was last month forced to launch a crackdown on sand harvesting on Thwake River in Machakos County, saying the activity was causing environmental degradation.
According to the Nema boss in Machakos, Mr Stephen Kimutu, the practice was causing soil erosion, which was making the river shallow.
But the government now wants to uniformly address this problem through a new land reclamation plan.
In a draft land reclamation policy, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation has outlined various steps it will take to ensure that sand harvesting does not kill rivers in the country.
And it is not just sand harvesting. The draft policy also identifies “arid and marginal lands, restoration of the health and fertility of degraded lands and rehabilitation of salt affected soils” as its other targets.
The draft, which is awaiting Cabinet deliberation, was drawn by Water permanent secretary David Stower in collaboration with the Agriculture, Livestock, Environment and Natural Resources, Forestry and Wildlife, Regional Development Authorities and Lands ministries.
Mr Stower says that the draft arose from the fact that the recovery sub-sector is faced with many challenges including uncoordinated policy, limited research, climate change and unsustainable exploitation of natural resources.
“Government efforts to mitigate and reclaim degraded land and improve productivity of arid lands have fallen short of desired results and impacts,” says Mr Stower.
In Kenya, activities such as charcoal burning and poor sand harvesting cause an annual loss of at least $390 million (Sh40 billion), according to the Ministry of Water. This amounts to 3 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.
“It is the result of inappropriate human activities, coupled with natural processes, climate change and subsequent change in rainfall patterns that must be addressed,” says the draft policy.
The policy targets arid and semi-arid areas such as Baringo, Garissa, Marsabit, Kwale, Makueni and Pokot where people either keep more than the required number of livestock or engage in charcoal burning and sand harvesting to earn a living.
“Human activities drive degradation, they include clearing trees for agricultural expansion, logging, firewood gathering, charcoal production, mining, human settlement, livestock overstocking and overgrazing,” observes the policy.
Although Kenya has had laws governing environmental protection, none of them directly explained what should be done by who to reclaim land. Ironically, about 80 per cent of Kenya is arid or semi-arid land, according to the government information portal.
The policy promises to address weaknesses in the Water Act 2002, Forest Act of 2005, the National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) of Kenya (2008) and the National Land Policy of 2009 by explaining how the already degraded land can be reclaimed.
The policy gives government the obligation of finding money to perform these tasks.
“Government shall promote mobilisation of resources for reclamation of arid lands with increased investment in water harvesting and conservation in order to address recurrent food insecurity in the country,” says the draft.
This year, the Ministry of Water set aside Sh120 million to control activities that would otherwise cause the shallowing of water bodies.
As a strategy, the government will allow participation of the public in reclamation of degraded lands and will identify all affected lands before taking any intervention measures.
Although land reclamation is important, education of the public on the matter will be required. As such, the policy says there must be a proper plan to teach the public. It will also promote the use of local knowledge.
Above all, the ministry in charge will be required to develop a harmonised law that will create the Land Reclamation Authority.