By Samson Michura.
Yala Swamp is the third-largest wetland ecosystem in Kenya covering over 200 square km in Siaya County, Western Kenya. Dominion Farms Ltd, a multi-million company moved into the Yala swamp basin in 2003 through an arrangement with the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA). The initial proposal was that Dominion Farms would engage in rice production in the part of the swamp known as Area I, covering about 2,300 ha. This land portion had been reclaimed before 1970 and previously used by LBDA for agricultural activity to mainly produce cereals, pulses and horticultural crops. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was commissioned for large-scale rice production for which a license was issued in 2004 specifically for the rice irrigation.
But later Dominion Farms Ltd embarked on additional large scale agricultural and development activities in the swamp. They built a weir that blocked water from river Yala in order to channel water to their rice farms. As a result, the water floods farms destroying crops thus cause a lot of suffering to the communities living along the Yala Swamp. The affected communities working with ActionAid Kenya have been able to identify their priorities on land through a highly participatory process and developed a charter that provides a broad and useful framework for addressing land challenges that they face.
On 4th August 2016, community members comprising of 173 women and 77 men from Yala Swamp held a peaceful procession to climb the Usenge Hills in an effort to fight for their land rights by taking part in the ongoing Kilimanjaro initiative that seeks to mobilize women from all corners of the country to demand for their rights to own, access and use land. Men, women both young and old braved the chilly morning in their show of solidarity to demonstrate against activities by large scale investors that violate human rights.
Earlier in the day, a delegation of three women drawn from Usonga, Yimbo and Alego Wards presented their Charter of demands to the Governor of Siaya County, His Excellency Cornell Rasanga. From the meeting, Ms. Gladys Oking who hails from Aduwa in Yimbo explained to the governor how her land is flooded as a result of the weir put up by Dominion Farms in river Yala. The proclamations also included a demand to the County Government to ensure implementation of the recommendations from the task force report on Yala Swamp and Dominion Farms which included re-negotiations of the MOU while ensuring community participation, lowering of the weir to stop flooding in the upstream of the weir and opening up of the public access road that Dominion Farms had blocked from the public.
The governor showed great interest in having these demands implemented and assured the women of his total support for the initiative. Additionally issues of women disinheritance will be highlighted to curb the high rate of occurrence of women being thrown out of their matrimonial homes in the county.