Pressure on land and subsequent fragmentation are one of the main reasons counties such as Kisii and Nyamira are experiencing mass migrations.
Inheritance, population growth, land markets and historical and cultural perspectives have been the key contributors, the Land Fragmentation Report released by the National Land Commission (NLC) in October 2021 shows.
In the end, with so many factors driving the division of land into units that are too small for optimal economic productivity and with the population increasing rapidly, people are being forced out of their homes in search of greener pastures.
Data from the Economic Survey 2021 shows 140,434 people migrated from Kisii County in the year to pursue better fortunes elsewhere.
Over 44,260 people settled in the county in the year. That represented a negative net migration of 96,174.
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Kisii had the highest frequency of people leaving than those migrating in, of all the 47 counties.
The same was witnessed in Kakamega County with a negative impact of 95,236 due to out-migration. The county led in the absolute number of those migrating out with 185,886.
The two counties were followed by Bungoma with a negative outmigration of 72,172, and Kitui with 72,051.
Nyamira, one of the 13 counties that were studied in the NLC report, has also been bleeding its native population, with land fragmentation leaving people few options, one of the main ones for exit.
“The county (Nyamira) has a total area of 899.4 square kilometres and a population of 605,576 (Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), 2019). The county falls within a high rainfall potential area,” said the NLC report.
“The high population pressure has resulted in increased subdivision of agricultural land. The population density as per the 2019 Census was 674 persons per square kilometre.
“The high population pressure continues to be a threat to food security in the region.”
The NLC studied Nyamira, Laikipia, Nandi, Trans Nzoia, Taita-Taveta, Kiambu, Kajiado, Nakuru, Tana River, Makueni, Isiolo, Kisumu and Vihiga counties.
Across the country, land fragmentation is frustrating development. A high rate of development in most of the counties, such as Kiambu which neighbours the capital city, has put a real strain on land resources. Fewer people now own sprawling farms, data from the KNBS, mentioned in the report, shows.
The number of smallholder farms - less than five hectares - increased by 55 per cent in 2015-16 compared to 1994, exhibiting growth from 2.22 million to 7.63 million.
There was also a significant reduction in the number of farms of five to 10 hectares (71 per cent) from 93,871 to 15, 821 and more than 10 hectares (85 per cent) from 92,498 to 6,714, the report further showed.
The smaller portions of land cannot be used for the same purpose as the bigger ones, before subdivision.
“In Kenya, the ever-increasing demand in agricultural and urban development has led to subdivision and fragmentation of land leading to changes in land-use patterns,” the NLC report said.
“Land use variations and growth in human population have increased the demand for land especially in and around urban centres.”
This pressure arises from a rapidly increasing population and is not expected to reduce. While some counties are already densely populated, such as Vihiga which the report says “has exerted enormous pressure on available land resource resulting in land fragmentation and uneconomic subdivision”, others are gearing up for a race for ownership and more fragmentation.
Isiolo, for example, will probably have as much fragmentation as Vihiga in the coming years.
“The county was selected due to the ongoing and planned massive capital investments under the development of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) Corridor, international airport, resort city, and oil storage facilities,” said the report.
“The county has five airstrips with Isiolo airstrip being upgraded into an international airport as envisaged in the Kenya Vision 2030. These capital investments and the resultant population growth poses threat to fragmentation of land in the County”.
Competition for resources
Other counties such as Laikipia contain huge chunks of land that are not available to the public, including 32 private ranches, one government ranch and 13 group ranches, according to the NLC.
It also has “widespread human-wildlife conflicts which are widespread in the area due to competition for water and grazing space between wildlife, people and livestock”.
The little land that people can own is massively fragmented and with the population increasing, it is about to get worse. Other counties such as Kiambu have a huge section of land converted from agricultural use to commercial and residential purposes.
Coffee farms have been giving way to buildings over the years. Wherever you look, there is fragmentation for one reason or the other.
“Kenya has been experiencing rapid population growth in the last five decades. Currently, the annual population growth rate is about 2.3 per cent,” the report said.
“Further, it is estimated that the current Kenya population is 48 million. The figure is projected to surpass 100 million by 2058 and reach 125 million by the end of the 21st century (United Nations, 2019).
“In the wake of dwindling land holdings and intensification, especially in developing countries, there is a renewed interest in the attempt to understand and resolve the controversy surrounding the impact of land fragmentation on food production and land use.” While some are looking for new counties to settle into, they could be jumping from the frying pan and into the fire, moving into some of the most densely populated counties, or ones where the population pressure on resources is about to grow to astronomical levels.
In terms of urban land, the report noted, the country has witnessed uncontrolled expansion of urban centres owing to the lack of policy framework to control urban development.
This has resulted in urban sprawl, which in turn has led to fragmentation of land into uneconomical units and hence changes in land use, the NLC said.
While land continues to get fragmented and cannot sustain the owners, many suffer food insecurity.
“Food insecurity is one of the key challenges facing Kenya. The number of severely food insecure stood at 2.1 million people and young children suffering from malnutrition in 2021 reaching 652,960,” the report said.
“Food insecurity in Kenya is exacerbated by rapid population growth, climate change, the poor performance of the agricultural sector, gender inequalities and inefficient food systems.
“It is worth mentioning that in Kenya, food-insecure households tend to be poor, women-headed and reside in rural areas, according to the World Food Programme, 2021.”
NLC said land fragmentation can be understood under three perspectives; fragmentation in ownership, size of use (units) and internal fragmentation, which emphasises the number of parcels exploited by each user and considers size, shape and distance as the main issues.
“Land fragmentation is a phenomenon which also exists when a household operates a number of owned or rented non-contiguous plots at the same time, or subdivision of a single farm into a large number of separate small land plots.”
Regulations such as legislation, which involves “either introducing restrictions on the land sizes or changing legislation regarding inheritance, minimum parcel sizes, absentee landowners, prevention of transfer to non-farmers, leasing and imposing a maximum limit of a holding could minimise fragmentation, NLC said in the report, citing practice in other parts of the world.
Other measures would be land management, which involves land consolidation, land funds and land banking, voluntary parcel exchange and cooperative farming.
Land protection policies, such as the purchase of development rights programme, transfer of development rights programme, and a clustering programme, which are practised in the United States, are also mentioned.