Pastoralists abandon livestock for sugarcane and tea farming
The Maa community is slowly abandoning indigenous cattle rearing in favour of sugarcane and tea farming, which are seen as more lucrative.
Thousands of acres of land that were few years ago grazing fields for cows, goats and sheep in Transmara are now sugarcane and tea belts.
The construction of Transmara Sugar Company Ltd in Enoosaen area and a proposed tea factory at Shankoi area have fuelled sugarcane and tea growth, forcing residents to abandon cattle keeping.
The expansive Enoosaen and Keiyan group ranches, which were until 2013 grazing field and a habitat for some wild animals, is now under both crops in large and small scale production. Sub-division of the ranch for individual members ownership led locals to either plant the crop or lease their land to large-scale companies and individuals.
The sugar factory is fully owned by a private company while the upcoming tea factory is an undertaking by Ewaso Nyiro South Development Authority, (ENSDA).
When John Kararam was growing up he used to herd hundreds of his father’s cattle in unfenced farms but now, more four decades later, there is virtually no land for grazing because both crops have taken most of the space.
Scarcity of land
“Our cattle used to graze in more than 10,000 acres. Now we have been forced to keep small number of cows because of scarcity of land,” he said as he guides about 10 cows from a sprawling sugarcane plantation near his Manyatta.
He said families in Enoosaen and adjacent areas used to keep more than 1,000 cattle, but because of the new development, a family considered as rich now keep less than 50 or not more than 70 cows.
“There was enough grass and water from rivers and streams to warrant keeping a big number of cattle.
Now most of the land is under sugar and tea,” he said. Kararam said after many years of practicing traditional ways of life and rearing indigenous cattle, residents of former Enoosaen and group ranches have embraced agriculture.
Because of favourable weather, which ensured rain throughout the year and rich soils, in 1985, sugar cane planting started, albeit in small scale.
Sugarcane farming is now fast spreading to other areas of Transmara and is now few metres to Kilgoris, the commercial town of the sub county.
Former president Moi was the first person to plant sugar in the area in about 3,000 acre land he was given by locals in the 1990s in Keiyan area.
In 2011, Kararam said, production went large scale with almost every household planting the crop in more than 50 acres and others leasing their land to investors.
“The late president is the one who introduced sugarcane planting in this area.
About 20 years later, it was fully embraced,” said Charles Saiwa, a large-scale farmer in Enoosaen and who was among the people who convinced locals to farm to boost their incomes.
Before the subdivision of Enoosaen group ranch, about 1,500 members, used to get good money but it was not enough.
“When the ranch was finally sub-divided, most members started planting the crop. Outsiders were also interested in the venture, forcing some to lease their farms,” he said.
He said as farming expanded, the community lobbied for the establishment of a crushing factory, adding a local elder, the- late Takaka Nayioma sold 30 acres to the investor, Transmara Sugar Company Ltd.
He said after several soils tests, the company found it to be suitable for the crop, adding that adequate rainfall was an added advantage.
“Majority are not regretting why they abandoned cattle keeping for sugarcane farming.
Because of favourable weather throughout the year, and good soils, we harvest between 1,000 tonnes to 7,000 tonnes per acre a year,” said Saiwa.
The factory pays farmers Sh4,000 per tonne, he said, adding that sugarcane from the area has high sucrose content.
Before Transmara factory was established, he says, they used to take their cane to Sony and Ndhiwa sugar factories in Nyanza, which he claims used to delay payments.
Most farmers, he said earn good money with the highest getting about Sh7 million for only one delivery.
“The good prices have resulted in rapid expansion of land under the crop. Some people have sold all their cattle to give way for sugarcane farming,” said Saiwa.
He said the community decided to look for an investor to build a factory after Sony and Ndhiwa were overwhelmed by deliveries from the area and in Nyanza growing zones.
“There were delays in receiving the crop and payments. Crops used to take more than twenty-four months to be harvested, which reduced their value and sucrose, “ said Saiwa.
The factory now serves between 50,000 to 65,000 farmers from the area and former districts of Gucha and Migori.
He said the factory employs about 60 percent locals, reducing unemployment in the larger Transmara.
Locals, he added have embraced education and are using the crop proceeds to educate their children.