Caption: The Corrupt James Ongwae used his proximity to Raila Odinga to get voted in. He also used Kisii county resources to bribe Raila for his endorsement. Raila has monetized politics like in the recent case where he was bribed by Jubilee for a handshake.
By John Omwamba
The Kisii County Government is on the homestretch of ground-breaking the construction of a KES 5 billion sugar complex that will be on 120 acres excised from Nyangweta Forest in South Mugirango. This will comprise of sugar factory buildings, a nuclear sugarcane farm and an electric power plant to be generating about 10 MW of power to the national grid.
I took more time to ruminate on this matter. It has been so dear to me and of much interest, from my side of being an environmentalist, and the welfare of my fellow constituents. I appreciate all people that have been indulging in this debate and trying to reason out if we need such an investment in the current Forest. I thank Waziri Moses Onderi as the CEC for Lands, Housing and Physical Planning for indulging me in this matter and a team of professionals from the Kisii county Government who have tried to let us know why and how the County Government supports the project. I also note the support of my area MP Sylvanus Osoro and a battery of local MCAs support the project.
Delving deeply into this, the question I keep asking myself is; is the project good for our people as S. Mugirango, the environment, the county and country at large? Is it an idea too romanticized on paper but when the majestic factory complex goes up, the troubles befalling Mumias and other sugar millers in Kenya start biting our people? Let me outline the 20 issues concerning the forest and the sugar project. I may be wrong, and I stand to be corrected.
I hope the authorities will be right this time round and tell the public nothing but the truth.
On the forest:
1. I am of the knowledge that the County has many ungazetted forest lands, that are registered as trust lands; which were formerly administered by councils (County Council of Gusii).
2. The Non-gazetted forests in Kisii County are Nyangweta, Ritumbe, Ndonyo and Nyansembe forests in Gucha South district (South Mugirango, forming the bulk of county forests), and Keboye hills in Kisii south, Sameta hills in Sameta district, Nyacheki hills in Nyamache district, Igorera and Ibencho hills in Kenyenya, Taracha hill in Kisii central, Intamocha hill in Gucha district and Emborogo forest in Masaba South. South Mugirango could pride itself this!
3. The total forest cover in the whole county is approximated to be 228.4 hectares. Nyangweta covers 104 hectares (almost half the county’s cover!). The County government had a plan to increase the forest cover to about 500 hectares by 2017. I do not know how much of this was in any way achieved, but I understand that most forest land was lost through illegal logging for timber, poles, charcoal and firewood and little has been done to stop this.
4. Nyangweta forest, is one of the very few forest lands that are still intact as forests in all Kisii and Nyamira. Standing at about 255 acres, It is a registered forest area, but UNGAZETTED. That does not in any wise make it less of an idle piece of land, vulnerable for any use. It was designated for forest use by the County Council of Gusii.
5. I am in the full knowledge that, by information provided by the County government of Kisii, on the 20th of July 2017, Dr Judy Wakhungu, the CS for Environment and Natural resources, through powers conferred upon her by section 3l(2) of the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016, declared Nyangweta forest a ‘forest area’, through legal notice No. 119. This was done together with other forest areas in the county and elsewhere in the country (https://goo.gl/eaDC3x ).
6. In the legal notice No. 119, however, it raises eyebrows to note that ONLY 18.53 hectares (45.8 acres) instead of 104 hectares (255 acres!) have been delineated on Boundary Plan No. 1751438 as forest land against the former official records that had recorded the forest to be bigger. Why did the county government give misleading information about the total forest area?
This map was deposited at the Survey Records Office, Survey of Kenya, Nairobi and a copy of which may be inspected at the office of the Ecosystem Conservator, Kisii County, and the Kenya Forest Service Headquarters, Nairobi. Where did the rest of the forest go to? Any reason not to smell a rat here? I hope it was not a typing error, we all know what typing errors do in Kenya…
7. The forest was planted with commercial pine, eucalyptus and cypress trees in 1958, and these were ready for harvesting after 30 years.
8. Indeed, in 1997, the former Gusii County Council sought and was granted authority from the ministry of local government, for a planned logging exercise of the forest (40 acres). They recorded to have collected KES 5.5 million after logging 9,235 trees.
9. The County Council of Gucha (with authority from councillors) proceeded with unauthorised logging that took the intervention of the then local area MP Hon Omingo Magara and the Nyanza PC in March 2002, to stop the logging of the forest, who then directed the halting of further logging and reforestation to logged parts.
We know that most of the trees cut were barely replaced and illegal logging has taken a toll on the forest upto today.
This matter found its way to the floor of the National Assembly where Hon Omingo tasked Mr Sirma, who was the Ass. Minister for Local Government to explain the illegal logging of the forest. ( See https://goo.gl/sZBemN )
10. The proposed sugar complex will take away 120 acres from the forest. Kisii University had already been allocated 50 acres for its Nyangweta campus (that is under construction, after commissioning by former area MP Hon Manson Nyamweya ). Effectively, this will leave it with ONLY 85 acres out of the current 255 acres! That is if the records are straight…
However, the figures fronted by the county are jumbled up on this, stating that about 50 acres (which is almost equivalent to the area registered by the CS on item 5) will be left for the forest.
What happens to the remaining 40 acres? Is someone planning to grab the forest during this alienation process?
All said and done, we are technically eliminating the forest. This will be a beginning of its end. From experience, Part Development Plans (PDPs) done on public land have led to subsequent excisions for expansion or other facilities, and public land diminishes just like that!
11. If the county would like to harvest the forest, with robust afforestation intentions, that would be a welcome move obviously. But considering forestry functions are devolved to the county, working well with KFS to secure and protect all forest land ought to be done. As far as things stand, the area is a forest and the forest ecosystem that has stood in place for over 50 years needs to be strengthened and protected.
On the factory:
12. By 2006, the government was considering getting a private investor to invest in a sugar factory in South Mugirango (https://goo.gl/U6x799 ). The Kisii County government managed to get a suitor for the deal during the Kisii Investor Conference, where it offered to give the investor ‘free’ land to put up the factory.
13. Local farmers thought of getting part of the forest to put up a sugar factory through a local sugar society, though this was not possible. They began agitating the former MPs to petition the government put up a sugar factory locally, because SONY was inefficient in cane collection from their farms. Most got poor rates per tonne and many resorted to jaggery production. The former area MP Hon Omingo Magara in his early tenure (1998), severally tasked the government to state what it was doing about the waste of cane in the area. Local farmers had started agitating for a local sugar factory. Government always responded by promising to expand SONY sugar, which is about 15km away from the area. The government responded in all instances it was instead going to boost the capacity of SONY from handling 3,000 tonnes of cane per day to 6,500. This delayed due to problems that faced the sugar sector and led to the company getting into debts. (https://goo.gl/Ss3yEG )
14. Looking at figures, at its peak, the factory will be crushing utmost 5,000 tonnes of cane per day. As per to the county’s own statistics, the local sugar sector in the county stands at 245,000 tonnes per year. Out of this, the greatest is delivered to SONY in Awendo, the remainder is taken to Sukari, Transmara factories, and the rest processed locally as jaggery. With modern agricultural practices, its projected that production in the County will be at 600,000 tonnes annually. Assuming all this is delivered to Kisii Renewable Energy and Sugar Factory Company Limited (which is practically not possible), the new factory will be operating at under capacity most of the year, just as the other factories in the region. This however is not reason enough to stop the factory. I know the Kanoria Group have operational experience to make profits out of their factory.
15. Tragedy is, even with many technocrats to advise on the best way forward, the forest land has been settled on to be the site for the project, oblivious of the environmental impacts that will have on the current ecosystem. In the location, was there absolutely no piece of land in South Mugirango where the investor could locate, considering that there is a base of the raw materials to locate the factory? Is it a must that it be in the forest? Not even two adjacent pieces of land for the factory and nucleus farm? The fact that local farmers asked for a factory to be in the forest did not in any way imply that it be located in the current forest. If your child asks for a beer and you know its not good for him, you simply do not give him. Buy him something instead, like a banana, or a soda 😉 . We go to school to learn what is good for the people. Maybe they are ignorant of the impacts they would create by advocating for a factory being in a forest.
16. The proposed factory has found its way to the Senate, as petitioned by the governor HE Ongwae who was seeking senators’ permission to let him excise part of the forest land for the sugar factory. The matter was supported in the Senate by nominated Senator Hon Janet Ong’era and Senator Hon Prof Sam Ongeri. It elicited mixed reactions on the floor, with some senators raising concerns over destroying a forest for a factory, and the misgivings of the sugar factories established before. If interested, you could read the response of senators on https://goo.gl/HfzQFF
17. On alternative local industries, the County has allocated KES 9.5 million in the 2017/2018 financial year to promote value addition of avocados and bananas (4 million for avocado and 5.5 million for bananas). Is this model working? Would it be replicated in the sub-counties in like the tea factory model? What of soapstone? What of sweet potatoes? What of our unique range of indigenous vegetables being processed for exotic markets? Any plans in this respect?
18. Considering that most county residents have tiny pieces of land that are fast diminishing due to subdivision, would the CEC for industrialization and trade in conjunction with the Agriculture CEC look for more robust and scalable agri-based industries in the county like milk processing, poultry and horticulture (as has been done in Makueni) considering that most of our people could make optimum use of their tiny pieces of land for better production?
19. Who are the shareholders of Kisii Renewable Energy and Sugar Factory Company Limited? Is it a wholly owned by Indian Based Kanoria Group or we have local shareholders?
20. It is also worth noting that the EIA on the NEMA website ( https://goo.gl/w7EA37) seems to have been done by the Kisii County Government. Why would the County government conduct an EIA that is supposed to be done by the developer, a private company? Were public funds used to produce this report (KES 1 million)? Why did the developer not do this since it is his development and the County was supposed to be a facilitator providing land for a leasehold? The report appears misleading as it estimates the project to be worth 1 billion, and we have since learnt it is 5 billion! NEMA approved it anyway. There must have been many standard operating procedures bent to sanitize the report! It’s a criminal offence to appropriate public funds for a private use on any nature in this country…
In the interest of transparency and accountability, why not attach the Environmental Impact Assessments as approved by NEMA and Project Feasibility reports to the County websites on the downloads portal where interested parties will read for themselves what has happened so far on the project and not hearsay being peddled by everyone around? This far, it has been promoted by word of mouth and loads of what appears to be secrecy in the execution of the project.
It is commendable that the county has identified a major project it believes will contribute positively to the local socio-economic development. If well designed and well thought out I hope it brings prosperity to the people, and not push them deeper into poverty. I know most of the processes have been done ‘within the law’ to finalize the development of the factory. I hope my voice of reason will get a person to listen even once!
Lastly, for the record, when all is said and done, with or without the sugar factory, for the interest and benefit of county residents and other Kenyans, I am convicted annihilating a forest ‘for development’ is a misguided idea. We must jealously guard our forests, or nature will teach us a bitter lesson. The sugar farms we pride in will soon wilt and die. The factory will have no cane to crush. Then we shall all yawn!
Adios Nyangweta! But I remain an optimist
Let’s rise South Mugirango!!!
We cant let anyone use us in any manner to take away what is in our locality, make our environment desolate or push us further into sugarcane poverty!
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