Mzee Mwania Nyamai from Kyamuoso village in Makueni County has lived all his adult life without a title deed.
This has meant the 67-year-old could not use his 32-acre-piece of land to acquire credit from financial institutions to advance himself.
However, Nyamai for the first time now, has two title deeds for his two pieces of land.
The joy on his face when the documents were handed over to him by Makueni Deputy Governor Adelina Mwau was unmistakable.
“It has been a long struggle searching for these documents. I am happy it has finally happened. I am now able to subdivide my land to my children,” said the father of seven.
According to Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, most residents have faced land ownership challenges for decades, mostly due to poverty as they could not afford prohibitive fees levied on title deeds in the past by the national government.
The governor noted that some people took advantage of this vacuum to grab land from the poor, rendering thousands of people squatters.
Although land ownership is a big problem in the larger lower Eastern region, it is more severe in Makueni County where tens of thousands of residents live as squatters in areas such as Mikumboni, Kalembe Raha, Wildlife, Ngai Ndethya, Mbwetwani.
Majority of these landless people were evicted from the land next to Chyulu Hills National Park and those who were lucky were settled at Kiboko A, B and C settlement schemes.
But like the rest of the squatters, even those on settlement schemes do not own title deeds to claim ownership of the land they occupy.
“We are working with the National Land Commission (NLC) to address this land crisis. We want our people to properly own land. When landlessness is addressed, we believe poverty levels will significantly go down,” Kibwana said.
The governor who last week hosted Chief Administrative Secretary for Lands Gideon Mung’aro and officials from NLC during the county’s first Annual Land Conference noted that apart from squatters, even landlords in the county’s urban centres lacked official ownership documents, making it difficult for them to access financial facilities using land they own.
Kibwana said lack of land ownership documents contributed greatly to poverty levels and slow investment.
“Lack of title deeds has affected the level of investment and productive use of land since many people could not develop their land due to lack of secure tenure.
Families were unable to get loans to enhance farming and other socio-economic investments,” said the governor.
Ms Rose Musyoka, a commissioner with NLC said in conjunction with Makueni county government, land clinics were held across the county’s 30 wards to identify the landless, and that those living at Kiboko B and Nguu ranch will soon get their title deeds.
“The commission is committed to working with the county government to solve land issues because where there are land conflicts there can never be meaningful development,” she said.
The chief officer in the department of land, infrastructure and urban development Alex Nthiwa said that even before the national government waived fees levied on title deeds, the county government had stepped in from mid last year to help poor land owners by paying such fees for them.
“Now that title deeds are being issued for free, the county government is financially supporting the devolution of title deed issuance to the village level.
Instead of people coming for them at the county headquarters and incurring expenses, we transport them to their villages,” Nthiwa said.
The county official said so far, the county administration has facilitated issuance of 51,000 title deeds across the region.
“This will facilitate an increase in productive and long-term investment on land.
Land succession will be guaranteed because locals will be able to change ownership from deceased parents,” said the chief officer.
Mungaro said that since coming into power in 2013, the Jubilee government had so far prepared and issued over 400,000 title deeds across the country.
He cautioned the police not to involve themselves with land disputes, which can only be addressed by NLC and Ministry of Lands.