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Kenyan Women Step Up Fight for Land Destined for Coal Mine as 30,000 households likely to be affected

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Kenyan women harvest maize in Kenya, Oct. 9, 2008. VOA

Africa, Jan 20, 2017: When the Kenyan government announced five years ago that coal deposits had been found in the Mui Basin, a land of rolling hills and pristine forests east of Nairobi, local farmers hoped the discovery would help transform their livelihoods.

But as villagers prepare to leave their loamy, fertile soils to make way for the multimillion-dollar mine and power station development, many households fear they will miss out on compensation because women do not have titles to their land.

Traditionally, Kenyan society is patriarchal and ownership and decisions on land management or disposal are made by men.

The villagers’ situation reflects the predicament of thousands of women throughout Kenya who head their households but are not named on land ownership documents.

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Around 30,000 households will be affected by the proposed coal mines in the Mui Basin, said Alex Nganga, leader in the local county assembly.

There are no definitive figures for how many local families are headed by women, but it is known that there are many.

“We were anticipating that women would be listed in title deeds as co-owners or joint owners of land,” said Kasyoka Malonza, a Mutito community representative in the Mui Basin.

“It’s unfortunate that we have not been recognized despite all our efforts,” she said.

A national problem

According to the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Kenya now has a raft of progressive laws aimed at ensuring gender equality but customary laws continue to limit women’s rights to land and property.

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The Land Registration Act, introduced in 2012, includes provisions for joint tenancy and gives wives a legal right to land that is held in the other spouse’s name where the woman has contributed either in financial terms or through her labor.

FIDA estimates that only five percent of all land title deeds are held jointly by women with men, and only one percent of land titles in Kenya are held by women alone.

This is despite figures that show that around 32 percent of households are headed by women and that they are responsible for nearly 90 percent of the farming work.

A report on gender issues and the effect of coal mining in the Mui Basin prepared last year with Canadian government support also highlighted the need to ensure fair compensation for land for women who live in polygamous households.

More power for Kenya

The coal-rich Mui Basin covers around 500 square km and is located around 270 km (170 miles) east of Nairobi. It has been divided into four sections for mining development.

A Chinese firm, Fenxi Mining Group, was given rights to develop half the area in 2011. Another Chinese company, HCIG Energy Investment Company, with Liketh Investments Kenya Ltd won rights to develop the rest of the area and build a coal-fired plant in 2015.

The east African nation hopes that coal from the $2 billion power plant will not only help supply Kenya’s cement and steel industries, which import large volumes of coal, but also save on foreign exchange by cutting import costs. Surplus electricity will be sold into Kenya’s national grid.

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George Kariithi, director of the Great Lakes Corporation, a Kenyan partner of the Fenxi Mining Group, said the company could not comment on the issue of land compensation and ownership rights.

“We have left that for the government to handle,” he told Reuters.

A spokesman for the National Land Commission told Reuters that questions on land titles and the mining development must be referred to the Kitui County government.

But an official for the county said he could not comment, as it was a matter for the Land Commission.

Women fight back

Christine Kalikanda of the advocacy group Center for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRCE) said the group was working in the Mui Basin as well as many other areas of Kenya to teach women how to ask for their property rights.

“We mobilize communities to voice issues collectively,” she said, adding that CHRCE has also developed guidelines to help villagers negotiate fair, market value compensation.

According to local residents, however, there has been very little interaction between the mining companies and local communities.

Activists say that the government itself has not been forthcoming either and communities still have no idea where churches, markets and water points are to be relocated.

Simon Mutui of the campaign group Kenya NGO Council said widows and single parents are particularly worried, as they have no legal claim to their land at all.

“Children born out of wedlock stay with their maternal extended families but have no claim to land, as their mothers lack inheritance rights, they have no claim to compensation,” he said.

For Mutito community representative Malonza, the answer lies with the Kenyan government.

“It should guarantee women’s rights both for ownership and the equitable division of assets,” she said. “We want to see that even women in polygamous families get an equal share.”-(VOA)

Next Story

What are Tea Producers in Kenya Doing to Cope up With the Price Rise? Find it Out Here

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Kenya Agriculture
Tea is a staple drink in Kenya, though, unlike other major producing countries, it consumes far less than it exports. Pixabay

In a humming factory in Kenya’s highlands, tea is hand-plucked from the fields, cured and shredded into the fine leaves that have sated drinkers from London to Lahore for generations.

But Kenya’s prized black tea isn’t fetching the prices it once did, forcing the top supplier of the world’s most popular drink to try something new.

In the bucolic hills around Nyeri, factory workers are experimenting with a range of boutique teas, deviating from decades of tradition in the quest for new customers and a buffer against unstable prices.

Like the bulk of Kenya’s producers, they’ve been manufacturing one way for decades – the crush, tear and curl (CTC) method, turning out ultra-fine leaves well suited for teabags the world over.

Now however, between conveyor belts whizzing tons of Kenya’s mainstay CTC into heaving sacks, huge rollers also gently and slowly massage green leaves under the watchful eye of workers, all freshly trained in the art of what is known as orthodox tea production.

The end result – a whole leaf, slow-processed variety, savored for its complex tones and appearance – is still being perfected at Gitugi, a factory in the foothills of the Aberdare Range that has been trialing these teas since June.

It has been costly shifting into orthodox, and a cultural change for workers and farmers, said Antony Naftali, operations manager at Gitugi, in Nyeri some 85 kilometers (52 miles) north of Nairobi.

But the risk was necessary: prices for stalwart CTC at auction nosedived 21 percent in 2018-2019 compared to the prior financial year, underscoring the urgency to diversify and extract more from every tea bush.

KENYA AGRICULTURE-TEA
A farm worker harvests tea leaves using shears at a plantation in Kenya’s Kericho highlands, Kericho county, in Kenya. VOA

“We have relied for so many years on traditional CTC. But the price has dropped. We want to reduce the pressure… but also, to explore this new market,” Naftali told AFP.

Market turmoil

Even since prices have recovered somewhat, any fluctuations are still keenly felt in Kenya, the world’s biggest exporter of CTC.

Tea is a staple drink in Kenya, though, unlike other major producing countries, it consumes far less than it exports.

The humble cuppa is a pillar of the economy: one in 10 Kenyans depends on the tea industry, according to the Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), which represents 650,000 smallholder farmers by selling and marketing their tea.

The poor returns this year sparked angry protests on estates, and tea companies registered losses.

Part of the problem is oversupply.

Higher prices in recent years spurred investment in tea planting, resulting in Kenya’s best-ever haul in 2018 – at 493 million kilos (1,086 pounds).

But Kenya also has long relied on too few buyers, shipping 70 percent of its tea to just four markets.

Its top three customers – Pakistan, Egypt and Britain – have all seen a weakening of their currencies in recent times, making tea imports pricey.

Other big buyers – Iran, Sudan and Yemen, chief among them – have struggled to make payments.

“Our key markets are in turmoil,” Lerionka Tiampati, KTDA chief executive, told AFP.

“When you cannot control the price, then there’s not very much you can do. But what we are doing is we are trying to diversify the product.”

Reading the leaves

Orthodox production opens doors to markets where whole leaf, bespoke teas and custom infusions are rewarded with higher prices, says Grace Mogambi, KTDA’s manager of specialty products, who has travelled the globe to learn what drinkers want.

Kenya Tea
The prized black tea in Kenya isn’t fetching the prices it once did, forcing the top supplier of the world’s most popular drink to try something new. (Representational Image). Pixabay

Studying samples in Gitugi’s cupping room, Mogambi reels off the qualities desired by discerning tea drinkers: Russians like whole leaves, Germans prize tips, Saudis demand jet black and Sri Lankans dislike stalks.

“Consumer taste preferences are changing. Drinkers are becoming more aware of the type of tea they prefer,” said Mogambi, clad in a white laboratory coat, before swirling a mouthful of tea and ejecting it into a spittoon.

“If I’m spending more money on a cup of tea, I prefer given characteristics to be present.”

But orthodox and specialty lines represent only a tiny fraction of Kenya’s exports, and critics say the KTDA – which accounts for 60 percent of the country’s tea production — has been slow to adapt.

The board decided in 2000 to launch an orthodox range but, by the end of 2019, just 11 of its 69 factories were expected to be producing teas other than CTC.

Some like Kangaita, a factory at the southern flank of Mount Kenya, have been cultivating purple teas – a rare specialty unique to the region.

Other craft varieties include white premium, a loose leaf packaged in deluxe pyramidal teabags.

These appeal also to younger tea drinkers, a growing market demanding something other than run-of-the-mill black tea.

“Youthful tea drinkers are definitely looking for wellness, and other health benefits in tea,” said Gideon Mugo, chairman of the East African Tea Trade Association.

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Major brands outside the KTDA have been targeting the youth segment.

Kericho Gold produces a line of “attitude teas” packaged in bright boxes, including one for “love” and another marketed as a hangover cure. (VOA)