Del Monte, two counties wrestle for 60,000 acre pineapple farm

An aerial view of part of Del Monte’s pineapple plantation in Thika. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]
A case between Del Monte and two county governments over a 60,000 acre land epitomises an unfolding battle for renewal of land leases in Kenya.

The multi-national fruit maker has been battling Kiambu and Murang’a counties for the renewal of its 99-years lease in cases pending before the High Court and the National Lands Commission (NLC).

Del Monte’s land lease in Kiambu County expires at the end of this year, while the one in Murang’a expires in 2022.

The firm has filed two separate suits against the two county governments, NLC and residents who are seeking a portion of the vast land.

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In the suit against the county governments, Del Monte claims its request for an extension of the lease to a further 99 years was turned down despite meeting all requirements and fulfilling all obligations set under the lease agreement.

Del Monte also wants to stop NLC from hearing a petition by Kandara Residents Association and Canneries Residents Association seeking part of its land. It claims this will destabilise the multi-billion shillings investments it has put up.

Residents of the two counties, through lawyer Duncan Okatch, have opposed renewal of Del Monte’s 99-year lease and filed a case at NLC citing historical injustices.

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The historical injustices they have cited include taking away their communal land, discrimination of workers from the area, brutality and violent treatment of people who dwell within the vicinity of the company’s plantations.

According to the residents, extending the lease by another 99 years will expose them to further suffering, including being squatters in their own ancestral land.

“The residents’ claim is that their forefathers were mistreated, brutalised and their land forcibly taken away. They are adamant that they will not continue to suffer the same fate,” said Mr Okatch.

But the firm, through lawyer Njoroge Regeru, argues that it is not fair for the residents to claim part of the land where it has established a multi-billion shilling investment, which is likely to be destroyed.

It argues that refusing to renew its lease will cause massive losses to Kenya’s economy.

“In 2018 alone, the company paid in excess of Sh1 billion in various taxes to the exchequer, and will pay even more in 2019. We also earned the country more than Sh10 billion in foreign exchange, which is now at risk of being lost,” he said.

He argued that the firm had taken care of the resident’s welfare, including offering modern housing, schools, recreational and health facilities, and employing more than 7,000 people.

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