Uproar over ban to farm maize due to insecurity

RIFT VALLEY
By Julius Chepkwony | February 11th 2021

Rift valley Regional commissioner George Natembeya. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The government's ban on maize farming in three villages in Njoro, Nakuru County, has caused an uproar from the public.

While the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government insists the move is aimed at securing the area and preventing reportedly rampant ethnic attacks, residents said it was illegal to bar them from exercising their rights to access food.

In what might escalate into a protracted dispute between the state and the residents, a number of farmers have already started planting maize and vowed to continue doing so since the government has no right to ban them from tilling their land.

“There is nowhere in the law that shows that the government can take such a step to stop people from exercising their rights to access food through a ban on the production of a crop,” said John Lobolo Sironga, the chairman of the Ogiek Council of Elders, who resides in Nessuit, one of the areas where the ban has been imposed.

Mr Sironga said most of the area's residents had planted the crop that was expected to be mature between July and September.

The State, through a public notice issued by the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya, and distributed by area chiefs, said the ban in Nessuit, Ndoswa and Marioshoni in Eastern Mau was a preventative measure to curb recurrent ethnic clashes.

Mr Lobolo said residents had already tilled the land and some had planted crops.  

The government, he said, erred by imposing the ban. He said residents were bound to suffer hunger.

“I don’t see any reason why the government decided to impose the ban. We have security personnel on the ground. We already planted maize and don’t know what to do now,” he said.

In one of the letters whose copy The Standard obtained and , indicates that the decision to bar the locals from planting maize was reached after a security meeting in which maize was cited as a possible cause of the conflicts.

Mr Natembeya defended the move, claiming that maize fields provided a perfect cover for assailants.

He said the decision was arrived at after lengthy discussions between the county security committee, elders and residents on how best to deal with recurrent incidences of ethnic clashes.

In September 2018, six people were killed and several others injured. Several shops were also burnt in clashes that rocked several parts of Njoro and Molo.

The shops in Kapketiro centre, Tiritagoi sub-location, were razed despite a curfew being in place.

Vast maize plantations were said to have made it difficult to flush out attackers of the two clashing communities. 

In one of the incidences a police officer was attacked by an arrow by a group of youth who were hiding in a maize plantation in Nessuit Ward while conducting patrols.

The skirmishes occur in the months of August, September, October, and November when there is maize in the farms.

The security agencies observed a matching time during which the flare-ups occur every year, leaving scores killed and hundreds displaced.

An analysis of past incidents shows that most of the clashes are reported between July through December to January, a period during which the maize crops are usually tall enough to provide hideouts for assailants.

During the first three weeks of August last year, Nakuru County Commissioner Erastus Mbui had confirmed at least 12 killings in renewed clashes within Marioshioni and Neissuit wards.

“In one of the incidents, a civilian aimed an arrow at police officers, but he luckily missed,” Mbui told The Standard a day after the incident was reported.

At least 80 people were injured in the incident.  

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