April 1, 2013

Tragedy in sustainable landuse

Willing seller and willing buyer; does that rings a bell? I believe it does. Land tenure in Kenya has been a contentious issue since the white man boarded a plane back home. It being a crucial factor of production has aroused a myriad of feelings among the common mwanachi(citizen ). The unpleasant impact of the colonial regime still running deep in our lands, evidently from the ongoing cases in UK courts by the mau mau veterans. Unfortunate enough, “wanjiku” (kenya) entrusted our leaders who tirelessly fought for our independence the responsibility of giving back what the colonial government forcefully took from our fathers, believing that they had our interest at heart, that the colonial settlement camps will no longer be home but a passing cloud. Little did we know that this was eternity, home forever? Population grew steadily in our new homes. Farming remained the source of food and livelihood. Inheritance, a dominant cultural practice was and has not been eroded hence the land grew smaller, literally. 

Agricultural land has gradually been exploited in pursuit of food, rivers highly polluted and overexploited from its multiple uses, domestic use, watering animals, farming, and industrial uses. A new disaster hit the land, climate change grabbing the last bit of glory from the already depleted natural land. Land that was communally owned and governed gradually became the bone of contention. Everyone ensuring they get an equal piece of the cake, overgrazing, uncontrolled farming, among others subjected the land to depletion at its maximum. Tragedy at its best hit our common resource, land. (Tragedy of the commons)

Further away from the settlement camps were the vast lands that have been subjected to commercial production, large trucks of tea, sisal, pineapple plantations. Where protection of land degradation becomes an option, economic rationalism governs its utilization. The best crop/investment that brings forth sweetest fruit rules the day. As land changes hands, so does power. The willing buyer and the willing seller invade. Their word becomes law. Common mwananchi (citizen) is reduced to a mere factor of production. The efforts to curtail any development that may cut them off from their daily bread is considered hindrance to modernization and advancing production through technology (a case of tea pickers against mechanized tea picking in nyayo tea zones, Kenya). Their persistence through various strikes to air their grievances subject them to the law normally interpreted in favor of modernization, their plea   sidelined and considered irrational and archaic. The higher the marginal benefit the gradual increase in the ecological foot print, land is henceforth used as infinite resource. Fertilizers and other biochemical became the order of the day; our highly valued land becomes a series of unrelated resource. Climate change takes a toll on already depleted resource, efforts to mitigate this affects cost us emotional, physical and economic muscles. Land enclosure/individualization, having seemed a solution as a land tenure system becomes a tragedy in itself. (Tragedy of enclosure)

It is therefore, evident that land tenure provides a legal and normative framework within which agricultural, economic and any other land use systems are conducted. Tenure insecurities either customary or statutory affects this activity, Kenya being highly agricultural makes it imperative that the legislators pursues policies and land tenure systems that promote sustainable land use and development.

By: Gladys N. Gatiba




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