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Harvesting sand gives scores of youth jobs

By Philip Muasya | February 1st 2021
By Philip Muasya | February 1st 2021

Members of Tiva Sand Harvesting Group pile heaps of sand at River Tiva, Kitui County. The group has employed hundreds of youths. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

Sand harvesting is mostly associated with the destruction of rivers and the environment leading to drying up of water sources. This is mostly witnessed in Ukambani region that has many seasonal rivers.

In Kitui County, however, Tiva community group that lives along the banks of River Tiva, which drains its waters into River Athi in Kitui South, has proven that sand harvesting can be done sustainably and alongside other activities such as irrigation farming without destroying or polluting the environment.

The community group that comprises two villages, Katakani and Maviani, has been licensed by the National Environment Management Authority and trained on sustainable sand harvesting in their locality without causing harm to the environment and other river users downstream.

Job opportunities

And with job opportunities decreasing by the day, the well-organised sand enterprise has become a full employment industry to hundreds of young men and women who throng to the river every morning to earn their keep.

Here, the community charges Sh6,000 for every truck that comes to ferry sand, which is mostly sold in Thika and Nairobi at construction sites.

Armed with shovels, the young men are always on standby to load trucks with the commodity.

Sabina Mbuvi, the group’s coordinator, says the loaders — numbering six per truck —earn Sh3,000 per lorry to share among themselves. This is outside the community’s fee of Sh6,000 per lorry, she says.

“We came together and thought of ways on how we can benefit from harvesting of sand, which is a key natural resource in our area. We are happy it has become a full-time occupation for young people who are assured of a livelihood to take care of their families,” says Mbuvi.

The young women who are paid Sh1,000 per day work as clerks, collecting and receipting the money from sand buyers while others operate as inspectorate officers to maintain order in the sand business. In areas that are uncontrolled, sand cartels often clash with deadly consequences.

Mbuvi says in a day, between five and 10 trucks descend on the river to scoop sand and this assures the group of constant cash flow. She says from April last year, there has been an influx of youth in the sand business owing to loss of jobs in major towns such as Nairobi and Mombasa due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“With nothing to do at home, they have joined us and are assured of daily earnings. It has also helped to keep them busy and away from crimes,” she says.

Zacharia Musyoka is a loader who says the sand business has transformed his life.

“I have been able to buy a motorbike with my savings. The boda boda business supplements my income. It is a good initiative that has offered opportunities to many of us,” Musyoka says.

“We know how to control over-harvesting in one area while keeping the river clean. It is our main source of water so we cannot afford to destroy it,” says Daniel Musya, another loader.

Catherine Wambua, who works as a clerk, says from her pay she has educated her children. Her firstborn is currently at the university.

“The river is our source of life. Sand business is far much better than idling in towns,” she says.

Licensed area

The group’s licensed area is a 2km stretch along the river that was subjected to Environmental Impact Assessment.

Farmers have also sunk shallow wells and practice small scale irrigation farming along the river banks in a symbiotic relationship that benefits all. Other than the personal benefits, the community is also thinking long term. A couple of years back, the group members started a primary school from scratch with part of their savings.

Today, Maviani Primary School has five complete classrooms. The recent one was put up by the community at a cost of Sh1.2 million alongside a block of pit latrines.

The school has been inspected and approved by the Ministry of Education, with the first batch of government teachers set to report in July. It also got help from the local CDF office that put up a classroom.

“We started with a nursery class, and along the way, we added three more classrooms then got another from CDF. We are determined to make it a complete school,” says Mbuvi.

The coordinator says the idea to build a school was mooted after seeing children suffer going to school. They had to walk for about eight kilometres to Ndumoni Primary School, while others schooled at Kalimbevo Primary School, some 14km away.

Patrick Nzioki, 81, is among 10 elderly members of the community who have been taken up for support. Every Thursday, those aged above 65 get a cash stipend and food.

They are also provided with clothing regularly. “We want to make everyone of us comfortable and enjoy the benefits of our unity,” says Musyoka.

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