Community Rights to Land
Community Rights to Land

The long struggle for Yala swamp

Yala swamp is a unique wetland ecosystem in west Kenya, filtering two major rivers through its papyrus beds before draining into Lake Victoria.

People have followed the seasonal rise and fall of the water level to plant crops in the rich soil, and graze animals when the water recedes into the permanent swamp during drier times of year.

Mary Adera is hopeful that their campaign to claim their rights to their land will be successful.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/ActionAid

Farmers like Mary Oware in Yala have seen their livelihoods completely disrupted by the lease of the wetland.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/ActionAid

In 2004 Dominion Farms, a company based in Oklahoma, USA, signed an agreement with the Bondo and Siaya County Councils to lease 2300 hectares of Yala Swamp for 25 years for commercial rice production.

There were high expectation that “the investor” would bring benefits to the area – schools, clinics and employment. But once operations had begun, people’s experiences turned out to be very different.

Impact on the community

Many details of the agreement are hotly contested, but there was a lack of clarity over the actual ownership of different parts of the land as well as which government body had the right to lease it.

Most importantly, there was no proper process of informing and seeking the communities’ consent.

The community became politically organised in order to deal with the problem of their rights not being considered. Photo: Allan Gichigi/ActionAid

The root of the problem

ActionAid had been operating in the area for some time when we were approached to help community members to make their concerns heard.

“Stand up for women’s land rights”. Photo: Allan Gichigi/ActionAid

What has been done?

Dominion Farms has been operating in Yala swamp for over 12 years, with significant impacts on the surrounding communities. Until recently, it seemed that the interests of local farmers were not being considered.

Mary Adera is a community member who met with the local Governor to discuss the problems. Photo: Allan Gichigi/ActionAid

But regular support and organisation is finally producing results. And the outcome of the long struggle for Yala swamp has implications for similar land leases across the country.

What has been done?

We are continuing our work to support the community in Yala to claim their rights to the land on which their livelihood depends. And we will also continue to support other communities

and partner organisations where we work, to share learning and build strength in numbers so that more people can defend their rights across the world.