Land Deals in Kenya: The Competing Interests of Investors, Pastoralists and Commercialising Farmers

Research team: John Letai, Abdirizak Nunow, Jeremy Lind

Oxfam GB, Moi University, University of Sussex

In Kenya, a number of major (largely transnational) commercial land deals have been recently concluded or are in the process of negotiation, involving a mix of domestic and foreign investors, and are playing out in locally specific ways. Two regions will be studied: Laikipia and Tana River.

In Laikipia the key dynamics centre on absentee land, much of this being land that was divvied out to Kikuyu by Kenyatta after independence. Much of this land (particularly north of the 600mm rainfall band) is not viable for cultivation. However, it was used by the Kikuyu title-holders as collateral to acquire loans with the Agricultural Development Corporation and others. Maasai, Samburu and Pokot herders have been grazing this land since the 1970s. Now, former commercial ranch managers are setting up as brokers and are identifying the title holders of the absentee lands to convince them to consolidate their holdings and sell, as there is a new rush for land by foreign diplomats, aid workers, and even some Zimbabwean white farmers. The buyers of these consolidated plots are now fencing, which has created tensions understandably with the Maasai and other herders who have been using this land for a generation.

In the Tana River region in the east of Kenya, government parastatals, domestic investors and foreign governments are all rushing for land in the Tana River, mostly to establish sugar plantations. A government parastatal, TARDA, is in partnership with Mumias Sugar (also Kenyan government) to develop a 20,000 hectare sugar plantation, which has been opposed by local pastoralist and agro-pastoralist groups. There is a separate deal involving a Kenyan Arab investor that is over 100,000 ha and also for sugar. This investor is intending to develop the scheme by giving out 5 hectare plots to local households and also assisting them to prepare the land for sugar cultivation. Another deal with a foreign investor is for over 4,000 hectares, although the government is now challenging the deal as the terms of the initial concession seem to have been breached. At Bura, the government is planning a 1 million hectare irrigation scheme.