Invaders scramble for a piece of Yala swamp as US investor quits

Locals harvest papyrus reeds in Yala Swamp, Siaya County. [File, Standard]

Residents and local politicians are fighting for a piece of the Yala swamp after the exit of an American investor.

Nine months after Dominion Farms stopped operations at the swamp in controversial circumstances, villagers have invaded the farm and started cultivating crops.

"Here, it is survival for the fittest as everyone fights for a piece of the land. Some of these people came from faraway villages, including outside the county, to get land here," said Mark Opudo, from Ratuoro, where the swamp is located.

He claimed senior politicians had allocated themselves huge chunks of the swamp land through proxies.

Dominion Farms left Yala in a hurry when its chief executive and founder Calvin Burgess announced that he was quitting Kenya because of what he termed as unfavourable business environment.

The machines he left were auctioned by creditors, who claimed they were owed millions of shillings.

Due to high demand for land and poverty, residents have taken over the wetland and vowed not to move out despite a warning against cultivating in the swamp. Residents argue it is trust land.

Most residents have grown maize, vegetables, millet and sweet potatoes.

Yala covers 200 square kilometres.

The swamp is a filter for water flowing into Lake Victoria.

Mr Leonard Oriaro, the MCA for Central Alego, where swamp is located, said 20 secondary schools were cultivating crops in the swamp.

“The swamp is currently free for all and anyone from anywhere can farm here. Many people from different parts of the country have planted crops," said Mr Oriaro.

A report on the issues that sparked the row between the investor and residents has yet to be approved by the executive.

The report, released in 2016, observed that the relationship between residents and Dominion Farms Ltd was confrontational as the two sides fought over land.

The lands executive, Dismas Wakla, said the report would be tabled in the county assembly soon.