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Over 200 families evicted from Sossio forest as as government reclaims land

By Martin Ndiema | November 7th 2021

An aerial view of Sossio Forest. [Courtesy]

More than 200 families have been evicted from Sosio forest in Trans Nzoia County as the government steps up efforts to reclaim encroached forest land.

A total of 1,701.5 hectares of encroached land forming part of the larger Mt Elgon ecosystem has so far been recovered, with plans for massive tree planting scheduled at the onset of the long rains next year.

Chief Conservator of Forests Julius Kamau said the move also seeks to restore Mt Elgon water catchment that has been much degraded, to the chagrin of the downstream communities.

Kamau, who made an inspection tour of the area that was encroached, expressed satisfaction in the manner in which the exercise was carried out, saying it was humane.

The encroachers were moved out on October 25, 2021, extending to November after the sensitisation of the communities and other stakeholders affected by the evictions.

“We did this with due regard to the Human Rights-Based Approach (HRBA) mainstreamed within all the service operations and the process was smooth with utmost cooperation from all parties,” said Kamau.

Kamau disclosed that for the past three years, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has reclaimed about 55,000 hectares of encroached forest land across the country.

He said 14,400 hectares were reclaimed in the Mau forest, 30,000 hectares from Sirkirisia -  Rirogi forest in Samburu and another 7,000 hectares in Cheptais, Mt Elgon forest.

“We want to secure this country to have a clean and healthy environment and access to clean water which are rights of every Kenyan and this motivates us,” he pointed out.

Kamau also observed that conserving the forests promotes peace in the communities by ensuring the availability of water while citing that most conflicts noted are due to scarcity of resources such as water and pasture.

He disclosed that the forest will be well fenced to safeguard the rangers, road networks within the forest improved for better access and trees planted to replace those that have been cut down.

He pointed out that the initiative requires a multi-agency approach and goodwill of the people, adding that six months after restoring the Mau, Kenyans have acknowledged the trickling of clean water from the catchment area.

The evictees said they were pushed to settle in the moorland after their houses were torched in 2007 and 2016 and later the government introduced the shamba system and allowed them to erect houses.

Endebess MP Dr Robert Pukose expressed concern that the families live in deplorable conditions, saying most of them have been left landless and that the government should look for alternative land and settle the families.

“The eviction has thrown them into an open, hostile and shelter-less environment where there is no single basic necessity of life. They have the right to housing and to be treated with dignity” said Pukose.

“The right to adequate housing cannot be aspirational and merely speculative. It is a right which has crystallized and which the State must endeavour to realize” he added.

Meanwhile, Kamau called on Kenyans to stop the habit of encroaching on government land and expecting to be compensated during the reclamation process.

Trans Nzoia County Commissioner Sam Ojwang challenged elected leaders against politicking on matters that touch on human lifelines. 

The leaders addressed the over 600 members of the Sosio– Cheptarir Community Forest Association (CFA) asking them to reconstitute and restructure the group to allow formal engagements.

They noted that such engagements pave the way for beekeeping, firewood fetching, controlled grazing among other user group rights meant for mutual benefit.

Through the CFAs the Kenya Forest Service will also be able to source for donor funding and partners to initiate projects that the adjacent communities to the forests as primary beneficiaries.

In the recently held UN Climate change conference in Glasgow, 45 governments pledged urgent action and investment to protect nature and accelerate the shift to sustainable agriculture and land-use practices.

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