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Ruinous elephants leave farmers facing starvation

COAST
By Renson Mnyamwezi | February 9th 2016

Each morning, Augustine Mwachoki Mboga and his seven children wake up to the face of famine.

Marauding elephants have destroyed all of Mr Mboga's food crops.

Now impoverished, the dejected farmer and thousands of other residents face starvation after hundreds of acres of maize, green grams, cow peas and cassava were all destroyed by elephants in Sagala location, Voi sub-county.

The 45-year-old farmer says the elephants have become more aggressive especially at night forcing them to impose a dawn-to-dusk curfew. Their efforts to light fires to scare them away have been in vain. The elephants invade their farmlands destroying crops and threatening lives.

A report from the county's National Drought Management Authority indicates more than 65,000 people are currently facing starvation and if nothing is done to contain the wildlife menace, this would further complicate the situation.

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"I have lost five acres of maize, green grams and cassava among other crops to marauding elephants that have been invading farms. My family has nothing to eat," he says staring at the sky as if pondering his next move. He says he is leaving his family's fate to God.

The farmer accuses the Government of laxity when it comes to the residents' security and their property. "The Government should consider culling the elephants to reduce their population in the region," he says.

Mboga's neighbours, Erick Soghe and Cicilia Mshabo, have lost two and five acres of crops respectively.

"I sell the maize I harvest to pay school fees for my two secondary school children. Sometimes, on special arrangements with the school principal, I pay in maize, but now my hopes have been shuttered," Mr Soghe says.

He is among the many farmers who have abandoned their farms for fear of being attacked by the troublesome animals that have also disrupted learning in parts of Taita, Mwatate, Voi and Taveta sub-counties.

Villagers attribute the food deficit to rampant destruction of food crops by wild animals.

Areas facing acute food shortages and requiring immediate attention are Sagala, Kasigau, Maktau, Kishushe, Mwachabo, Mbololo, Challa, Njukini and Jipe locations, reports say.

There has been a rise in school dropout cases in both primary and secondary schools as  a result of wildlife invasion. "The Government is insensitive to the plight of the local farmers. I have never seen any Government official visiting us to assess the damage caused by the elephants," claims Mboga.

He condemns the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) for its "insensitivity" to the suffering the county has had to contend with for many years due to incessant invasions by elephants from the Tsavo National Park.

Mboga's situation has been complicated by what he terms as delays in compensation for the crops destroyed.

Governor John Mruttu says the hopes of a bumper harvest have been dashed. He adds that the rains that pounded the region had given farmers high hopes of a good harvest. "There is need to set up a martial plan to move all the elephants back to the conservation areas," says the governor.

He adds: "Tsavo West has been converted into a ranch hosting tens of thousands of cattle, which we believe is displacing the elephants from the conservation area. The cattle must be driven out immediately. Compensation for crop destruction, injuries and loss of life is still not happening despite the provisions of the Wildlife Act."

Last month, residents led by their leaders closed the main gate to the offices of the KWS assistant director in the Tsavo Conservation Area to protest persistent human-wildlife conflict in the region.

Environment Principal Secretary Margaret Mwakima has said the Government will drill boreholes and water pans to help contain wild animals in the park.

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