Lust for sugar cash leaves bitter taste in farmers’ mouths
The mushrooming of sugar industry in Enoosaen, Transmara in Narok county brought with it good tidings, but the allure of quick money enticed residents to either lease or sell land to sugar barons, leaving them impoverished after squandering the proceeds.
Prices of land shot up from about Sh30,000 per acre to between Sh150,000 and Sh750,000, depending on the location and proximity to the Transmara Sugar Factory.
More than six years later, the same size of land goes for about Sh3 million and it is still appreciating. Leasehold for the same size is now between Sh200,000 per year and Sh500,000, depending on location.
Land for grazing
However, the adage ‘when the deal is too sweet, think twice’, hangs in the air like a putrid smell.
Some of the people who sold their land or leased them to individuals are living in squalor after squandering their money.
Some were forced to sell of their herds of cattle, they once valued because there was no land for grazing.
Stephen ole Kapen, 67, a father of 13 leased his 75 acres in 2014 to an investor from Ruiru, Kiambu County for 33 years and is now miserable after splurging the money.
In 2015, after he was given the last tranche of money, he was told to move out until the leasehold ends, forcing him to rent a two-roomed house in Kilgoris Trading Centre.
His wife, Emily Nashipai blamed him for leasing the family only land for many years and spending almost all of the money on women, leaving her to fend for the expanded family.
“When he received the money, he became mad. He left us and returned when he was broke.
He only informed me that he had leased the land when the investor came knocking, asking us to leave to pave way for sugarcane plantation. I couldn’t believe it.
I cried but nobody, even our village elder could help us,” said Nashipai as she holds on to a grandson.
She said it was a painful experience but she accepted and moved out with all their belongings, including cows, which were later sold in a cattle auction in Kilgoris.
“I thought I was dreaming, but it was a reality. I don’t know if I will return to our land ever again.
Thirty three years is long considering I’m approaching 50 years,” she said with a haunted look on her face.
Nashipai said she knows many people from Enoosaen, Keiyan and adjacent areas who also sold their land after sugar money became too sweet.
She said because of poor planning, her children and grandchildren who were in school dropped out.
A weather-beaten Kapen said he never thought that money would run out before he utilised it properly and the thought of where his family would live after the person who leased the land came, never crossed his mind at the time.
“I thought in the pubs, I would get ideas from other revellers. I spent lavishly without knowing I will run out of money within a short time,” he said, without revealing how much he was paid.
His friends and relatives and bar owners, however, said he might have been paid about Sh6 million, based on the accounts he gives them.
“It was a lot of money. He used taxis all the time, smoked pipes and expensive cigarettes.
Women from as far as Nairobi arrived in taxis he paid for. He drunk expensive spirits and wines. He was a generous man,” said Saitoti Ngeiwa, a proprietor of a nightclub in Kilgoris.
Another man, Lobo ole Kuntai, 28, from Keiyan area rented out 45 acres of land he inherited from his late father, Lepore ole Kuntai for 21 years, but used the proceeds to marry two wives in a span of two years.
Though he was reluctant to state how much he was given by a farmer from Kehancha in July 2017, he said he regrets not taking his time before renting it out because those who waited got a better deal.
“Unlike others, I didn’t engage services of a lawyer. I sometimes regret the decision, because I think I was given a raw deal.
But in retrospect, I get comfort from the fact that I couldn’t have married my wives, if I was landless,” he said.
Kuntai, a primary school dropout, boasts of marrying a primary school teacher and a daughter of a respected chief.
The person who rented his land gave him a small portion in the corner of the land along the Kilgoris-Shankoi road, to build a temporary house and employed him as his watchman.
“He told me to bring down my house and showed me where to set up a new compound. Unlike others who came and rented land, he was humane because he didn’t throw me out.
He employed me as a watchman. Though the job is demeaning, I have to do it to feed my family and educate my three children who are still in primary school,” he said.
The same script played out for Daniel Kuluo, 70, who is married to two wives with 16 children and several grandchildren as he didn’t plan how to utilise about Sh2 million he was paid when a company belonging to a rich Asian from Kisumu bought his land just when sugarcane farming was introduced in Transmara.
His relatives said Kuluo, who does not have a permanent abode, failed to take advice from them to take his time before selling his family land.
“The buyer used to take him out to Kisii or Kisumu to buy him drinks and gifts. He could spend days out of his home.
Whenever he came back, his people enjoyed good food he could entertain friends a whole week.
That happened until he confided to one of his friends that he was selling his land to an Asian tycoon,” Dominic Mpeti, his maternal cousin said.
After the land transactions was sealed in 2012 at Kilgoris Land Registry and he was paid the balance, he changed his phone number and could not be reached by his family and relatives.
“His family is scattered around Transmara with some of his sons working as cane cutters and two daughters working as housemaids. One of his wives died while he was away and the other lives with her elder brother, a politician.
Peter Magiroi, an age set elder from Nkuraro area, said when locals embraced sugarcane farming, they inadvertently embraced poverty and breaking up of family units.
“The sugar has now become bitter. Only few people have benefited. Since people embraced it, families which were glued together by traditions have fallen apart,” he said.
Joseph Siparo, the Uasin Gishu clan elder said land owners are being duped because they lack legal support, adding that most of them are given gifts to cajole them to sign lease agreements or do so when inebriated.
“Most of these agreements have no exit clauses. If they involved county and national governments officials and elders, things wouldn’t have been this bad,” he said.
Peter ole Sapalan, a former chairman of the defunct Transmara county council and now a community liason officer with Narok County government, said there is need to review some of the leases which he claims favour investors to cushion landlords from exploitation and thereafter misery.
He is planning to carry out sensitisation programmes to end exploitation by investors and warned that after the review of the agreements, lopsided deals will be cancelled.