A plan to alienate a section of Nyangwenta Forest to put up a sugar factory has stirred a rebellion by locals and a group of professionals against the Kisii County Government.
The forest in South Mugirango is among the 13 in Kisii gazetted by the Government.
Kisii University has already been allocated 50 acres from the forest to build its Nyangweta campus. If the county government hives off 120 cares for the factory, it will leave the forest with 85 acres out of the current 255.
Most area leaders are not clear on their support for the proposed project. Only Governor James Ongwae, Senator Sam Ongeri, Deputy Governor Joash Maangi and South Mugirango MP Slyvanous Osoro have openly expressed support.
Governor Ongwae said the factory will significantly transform the economy of the county and change the livelihoods of residents. He said the factory will create 10,000 jobs and add 10 megawatts to the national grid.
“The county government plans to plant trees to improve forest cover. We have set aside enough resources to ensure the areas affected are taken care of. We also plan to gazette the remaining 13 forests to accommodate the excision of Nyangweta,” he said.
Maangi accused leaders opposed to the project of playing politics. “They are trembling because they think we are gaining political mileage. We are up to the task and the project will proceed because that is what the locals want,” he said.
Some locals believe the factory will save them the costs of having to transport their cane to other factories.
Ondieki Miyoro, a resident who lives next to the forest, is hopeful the factory will provide employment to area youth. “We lost the forest when some powerful individuals came in and cut down almost half of its cover,” he said.
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But two other residents -- Musa Nyandusi and Jephnei Nyakwama -- have written to the Clerk of the Senate saying the factory will adversely affect Nyangweta forest as a water catchment area.
In their letter, the two said the factory will jeopardise efforts to conserve the forest and its use for educational, recreational, health or research purposes.
At least 120 acres will be hived off the forest to build the sugar factory which will comprise three separate plants to produce sugar, ethanol and electricity.
The county government says the project was proposed by residents during stakeholders’ and public participation meetings held to identify priority projects. The Senate Committee on Land and Natural Resources has less than 60 days to submit its report on the proposed project to the House.
Last week, the committee toured the area after Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko and Governor Ongwae differed over the project when they appeared before it.
According to Tobiko, the factory to be built by Kanoria Group, an Indian investor, would drastically diminish the region’s forest cover to below two per cent. “It is about environmental concerns. The issues that are practical to my docket. I need to get the answers to make a recommendation for or against,” Tobiko told the committee.
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Although South Mugirango MP Slyvanus Osoro and a section of residents want the government to expedite its construction, some residents and leaders say a sugar factory is the last thing the county needs.
“We need to be told the real beneficiaries of this project. The county government is funding the project yet this is a private business. We are giving out more than 120 acres which has a value of almost Sh400 million,” Nyamweya said.
Former South Mugirango MP Manson Nyamweya argues that if the investor believes he must have the factory in the area, he should have offered to buy land as a private entity.
Dagoreti North MP Simba Arati says the county government should instead consider setting up banana or avocado processing plants.
But Moses Onderi, the Lands county executive, said the county government will lease land to the Kisii Renewable Energy and Sugar Factory Company Ltd in accordance to the law.
“The terms and conditions of the lease shall be submitted to the Kisii County Assembly for debate and approval,” he said.