Kenya’s conservationists win major victory over avocado farm
Elephants roam the Kimana Sanctuary.
Last year, a large 180-acre farm near Amboseli National Park, Kimana Shrine, and other conservation areas was sold by local Maasai to KiliAvo Fresh, who fenced off the site and brought it to life. prepared to plant avocados.
Conservationists and a group of local landowners, Amboseli Land Owners Conservancies Association, raised their objections to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), saying it disrupted a key migration route for elephants and other wildlife and threatened to disrupt the local ecosystem.
NEMA ordered work on the farm suspended in September.
This week, NEMA dismissed a case brought by KiliAvo Fresh to revoke the stop-work order, after seven months of hearings.
Benson Leyian is COO (Chief Operations Officer) of Big Life Foundation, an NGO that works with local communities to protect wildlife.
He is delighted with the news and believes it will prevent the same situation from happening with other farms.
“The greatest danger of having this farm is that we are setting a precedent that there is another farm that will come close to the same,” he says.
“By the time this corridor is closed, just count the extinction of the elephants in Amboseli and most likely in Kenya.”
Raising cattle is an important part of the culture of the local Maasai people.
Avocado farms need a lot of water. Experts say that a mature avocado orchard uses almost twice as much water as a fairly dense forest, which could upset the delicate balance of the Amboseli ecosystem.
Samuel Kaanki is the head of the Amboseli Landowners Association and a cattle breeder.
He says that if his people sell their land and invest in agriculture, their way of life will be lost forever.
“The Maasai are not good at farming. We are skilled in herding and if we stop them and venture into activities we don’t know about, we risk losing our culture.”
Kaanki and conservationists agree that investing in agriculture benefits the few, not the community at large.
“Growing the plants will only benefit a few people. It will only benefit wealthy farmers like KiliAvo, who are billionaires. They can afford to buy avocado seeds worth 20,000,000 shillings. Kenyans (US $ 185,000) unlike the Maasai who can barely afford to drill a borehole, “he adds.
However, Jeremiah Salaash, agricultural director and shareholder of KiliAvo Fresh, speaking to the Associated Press ahead of the most recent decision, says the company provides jobs for local people.
“We employ over 60 people. And those who have a job get a good salary of around 15,000 Kenyan shillings (US $ 139) per month, ”he says.
“It’s not that we’re against conservation. No. For us, we say we’re not willing to be in conservation, we’re going to farm because our land is freehold land and they fall under farmland. “
Salaash says the rewards of conservation are far less than agriculture for landowners.
“For a 60 acre plot of land, one person a year is going to be paid around 20,000 (Kenyan shillings, 186 US dollars) and you have a family. You want to educate your children, health care and other basic human needs. , ” he says.
“So if you farm for anyone or for anyone who is a business-oriented person who knows the value of land, you can make a lot of money.”
A food company will lease an acre at 35,000 shillings (US $ 324) for 6 months.
Therefore, for 60 acres of land, the local landowners would pocket 4,200,000 shillings (US $ 38,942) per year.
However, many believe it is important to put the interests of wildlife, the Maasai and the long-term economic benefits of tourism ahead of the short-term gains of agriculture.
Leyian says the area is important for wildlife, livestock grazing and tourism, thus supporting the livelihoods of many people.
“This corridor is very, very important and the decision in it is very beneficial and important for all of us. More importantly, it is a well-defined national wildlife corridor, not defined by people, but we have adapted. because the elephants have defined (it) that they will move from Chyulu Hills to Amboseli and Kilimanjaro National Park, ”he says.
“Second, it is important because it is a grass bank or refuge for dry season grazing areas for livestock and this is important for the local economy. Third, tourism. tourism is picking up very well and we have a few investors in the region who are doing very well in tourism, despite COVID, and we have potential. “
Conservationists and ranchers hope that an important precedent has been set to protect local wildlife and culture in the face of agricultural expansion.