Group fights plan to allocate part of Yala Swamp land to developer


File photo of women walking through the Yala Swamp in  Alego Usonga.

A conservationist group has launched a campaign to fight a plan to allocate part of the 16,763-acre Yala Swamp to a private developer for commercial activities.

An online petition, seen by The Standard and started by Nature Kenya, is seeking to stop the National Land Commission (NLC) from allocating the swamp's land to Lake Agro Limited for crop production.

On October 14, 2021, the agency ran an advertisement in local dailies notifying the public of its intention to hive off part of the swamp and give it to the company.

But on Tuesday, Nature Kenya responded with the petition saying the intended activities would be detrimental to the country's largest freshwater wetland.

The swamp cuts across Siaya and Busia counties.

The petition that attracted 26 signatures just in one hour of being posted online stated that the wetland provides a home to the nationally threatened Sitatunga antelopes and rare fish species known as cichlid that have since become extinct in Lake Victoria and should therefore not be interfered with.

“The land agency has not considered all necessary social, economic, and environmental safeguards. This allocation violates the rights of local communities, threatens the services provided by the swamp,” said Paul Matiku, the Nature Kenya director.

Mr Matiku said Yala Swamp’s ecological role as a filter for Lake Victoria as well as supporting livelihoods and biodiversity could not be underestimated.

He said the allocation of land compromises the wetland’s ability to continue providing its ecological services.

“The allocation does not also consider policies and proposals outlined in the Yala delta land-use plan that includes regulations on commercial farming, development of irrigation, and water management,” he said.

The petition argues that no Environmental Impact Assessment has been done and stakeholders were not sufficiently consulted.

“Yala Swamp is a wetland of great importance in Africa. Lakes found within the swamp harbor two endangered cichlid fish species that are extinct in Lake Victoria," says the petition.

"The swamp is one of the few refuges of Sitatunga antelope. It is also a Key Biodiversity Area and an Important Bird Area.”

Last week, Bondo MP Gideon Ochanda sought a statement from the departmental committee on lands regarding the planned allocation of the land to Lake Agro Limited by the lands commission noting that the move was unacceptable.

“Could the chairperson explain under what arrangements the Lake Agro Limited has been operating in the area yet they are to be allocated land?” Ochanda said in parliament.

Both Siaya and Busia are making efforts to have the swamp designated as a Ramsar site, a wetland of international recognition. There are 2,424 Ramsar sites around the world.

These efforts are aimed at securing the swamp that is largely unprotected and having it as a Ramsar site would promote proper use of the resource.

The process has also seen county assemblies of Siaya and Busia pass the Land Use Plan to guide the protection of the wetland.

According to the National Environmental Complaints Committee, the swamp faces several threats including that of increasing human population, over-exploitation of its natural resources, habitat degradation, and biodiversity loss. The committee says the swamp requires urgent attention.

The swamp has also experienced pollution from increased use of agrochemicals, discharge of effluent from nearby businesses, and encroachment of river banks, catchment areas, and riparian lands.

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