SECTIONS

Investor was willing to spend an arm and a leg

A baobab tree at Thange Village in Makueni County. [File, Standard]

From leasing a beach plot, constructing a loading jetty and a road, to buying the trees at exorbitant prices, a Georgian at the centre of the baobab export fiasco was resolute in his quest to ship out the trees.

The paper trail of the deal shows that George Gvasaliya was ready to pay an arm and a leg for the trees from peasant farmers in Tezo and Mtondia villages in Kilifi North.

He intended to export the eight baobab trees to Georgia, a coast-to-coast state at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

We have established that he rented land on a beachfront in Bofa, Kilifi County, where he constructed a jetty. He then equipped it with heavy machinery that were to be used to load the trees onto ships.

The agreements between Gvasaliya and farmers show that he bought the baobab at between Sh150,000 and Sh350,000, depending on the state of the tree and negotiations.

The eight baobabs weighed 500,000kg and would have been picked from the Kenyan coast by an American vessel, Hammonian, according to the declaration by Gvasaliya to the Kenyan authorities.

There is debate on the money Mr Gvasaliya spent in the abortive plan to export eight baobab trees to Georgia, after it emerged that the deal did not follow the Nagoya protocol.

Rights activists say that although the Nagoya protocol does not ban the export of baobab trees, it emphasises benefits to the communities where the trees are exported from.

“The protocol guarantees Tezo people a fair share of any benefits from genetic resources used for biotechnology research, development and other activities,” said Julius Ogogoh, an activist.

Mr Ogogoh, the executive director of Commission for Human Rights and Justice (CHRJ), said it was clear that Gvasaliya valued the tree highly.

“This makes us (human rights activists) question his reason for exporting the tree. We are happy that the government has taken steps to protect the villagers,” said Ogogoh.

According to Kenya Forestry Service (KFS), Gvasaliya applied on August 1 for permits to export the trees to be used for recreational and diversification of the botanic garden in Georgia.

On June 26, Gvasaliya leased a beach plot from Lidia Wairimu Njoroge to construct a jetty.

Some of the Baobab trees at Bofa Jetty in Kilifi County. The trees are sold to investors between Sh150,000 and 350,000 to a Georgian investor. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

A copy of the lease in our possession indicates that Gvasaliya was to pay Sh100,000 per month inclusive of Value Added Tax. The eight-month lease started on June 26.

"The lessee (Gvasaliya) is at liberty to demolish the wall demarcating the premises and shall re-construct the same upon expiry of the lease with an access gate,” states the lease agreement.

But the construction of the jetty was subject to approvals from the relevant authorities, and an Environment Impact Assessment was also to be conducted.

At the jetty, four uprooted baobabs lay on metals, ready to be loaded onto a seagoing vessel for export. But locals say that the water near the jetty is shallow for a big ship to dock.

When The Standard team visited the scene, it found six police officers and a team from a private firm guarding the jetty. Two baobab trees at the jetty have started to dry up.

In the agreement, Gvasaliya was allowed to bring down part of the wall and install all the equipment used to load heavy cargo. But would restore the facility to its original state after the lease.

Gvasaliya did not pick up our phone calls nor answer our texts. One of his agents, Yusuf Said, who had earlier agreed to give us an interview, later stopped picking up our calls.

According to villagers, Gvasaliya wanted to build a road from Tezo to the jetty in Bofa.

He leased Karisa Chonga’s land, at a cost of Sh25,000, to build a murram road to the loading site.

In both agreements, Gvasaliya committed to restore the area.