For years Kenya has been struggling with the land question as aggrieved communities seek social justice. Land is not only a major factor of production in Kenya but also an emotive issue. It is one of the major grievances that led to the fight for independence from the colonialists and still contributes to tribal conflicts. Globally, the issue of land has also gained attention mainly due to rising interest in large scale agricultural land acquisitions by multinational companies and the increasing demand for food due to change in size and structure on population. With Sustainable Development Goal number two that aims to end hunger and the inclusion of food security and nutrition in President Uhuru’s Big Four Agenda, it is important that land reforms be fast tracked in Kenya to boost food production. In exploring land reforms, three issues stand out, distribution, usage and access.
The Kenyan constitution (Chapter V), hailed as one of the most progressive in the region, provides for among other issues, classification and principles of land use. The Chapter is backed by an empowering National Land Policy of 2009 which sought to address the then patchwork of incompatible laws governing the sector as well as corruption and the historical land injustices highlighted by the Ndung’u Report of 2004. With the new constitution, Parliament was to revise and consolidate all laws relating to land and that brought about the Land Act (2012), the Land Registration Act (2012) the National Land Commission Act (2012) and the Community Land Act (2016). The Environment and Land Court Act (2011) was also a key Act herein enacted to hear and determine disputes related to the use, occupation of, and title to land.
Despite these laws, a lot needs to be done in order to achieve their desired purpose. The main challenges include the lack of political good will from the political class who have amassed huge tracts of land as a sign of wealth and power to the detriment of the poor masses. They fear that seamless and functioning land laws might eventually lead to redistribution of the land to the poor. The drafters of the constitution foresaw this problem and delinked the politicians by creating the National Land Commission, however, their infighting with the Ministry of lands has slowed down the reforms.
Article 60 (1) of the Kenyan constitution provides for principles to ensure equitable, efficient, productive and sustainable use of land. Closely related to these are seven principles of responsible agroinvestment developed by the United Nations, the World Bank and other stakeholders that could be used to guide investors (local and foreign) and governments to address the needs of vulnerable groups especially small scale farmers . Key among them are shared value, that the investments should strength food security, generate desirable social and distributional impacts and that there should be consultation of all those materially affected. With 80% of food produced in Africa coming from small scale farmers who often go hungry and majority of them owning less than five hectares, effective land governance especially on distribution and use could reduce hunger. Some of the counties that are affected in Kenya are Taita Taveta- where most locals do not have title deeds and majority of the land is under the Kenyatta family and foreigners growing sisal or speculating for minerals -Laikipia, Isiolo, Lamu, Murang’a and Kiambu where Delmonte and Kakuzi own huge tracts of fertile land. Their usage of the land goes against the principles mentioned above. Redistribution of such lands to the poor and landless to produce food would contribute to not only food security, reduce poverty but also to social justice. Passing proposed legislation to deal with such historical land injustices as well as the procedure of evictions and resettlements should also be fast-tracked by Parliament.
Land rights are also key in increasing productivity. The Government has dragged its feet in enacting key regulations to implement these Acts. They should be enforceable and provide definite security of land tenure. Land leases further require guidelines so that due diligence is followed and that their respective land uses are enforced. This is what TMG Research, a development organization from Germany helped locals in two wards of Kakamega County implement. Research shows that where farmers are certain of the benefits of sustainable land management and improvements, productivity increases. In addition, securing land rights to women who most of the time, till land they have no ownership of could increase food production. They would also decide what crops to plant and whereas men go for high value crops, women go for high nutrition crops hence directly contributing to food security and nutrition.
The government , development partners and civil society organizations should therefore ensure that land reforms are comprehensively implemented to promote food security, cushion the poor and landless and achieve social justice.