By Suleiman Mbatiah
Ranchers and conservationists have hit out at Opposition leader Raila Odinga for suggesting large ranches in the county should be dismantled.
Raila was quoted by The Times of London on Monday saying he would dismantle the ranches in Laikipia and northern Kenya if he won in the August 8 elections.
He laid the blame for the violent land invasions in recent months, in which several people have been killed and tourist lodges and homes destroyed, on the ranchers and the Government’s failure to manage them better.
“These ranches are too big and the people don’t even live there. They live in Europe and only come once in a while. There’s a need for rationalisation to ensure that there is more productive use of that land,” Raila told The Times.
Yesterday, the Laikipia Farmers’ Association (LFA), which brings together farmers, ranchers and conservationists in the county, said they were unhappy with Raila’s remarks.
In a statement, LFA said its members contributed Sh10 billion county’s economy between 2014 and 2016.
“Our members’ enterprises are Laikipia’s largest employers, taxpayers, investors and private sponsors of social projects such as education and health,” the statement said.
“In 2016 alone, the LFA members contributed Sh218 million towards social projects, with a large portion going towards education.”
They argued that while foreign investors may be supporting ranches, they were majority-owned by Kenyan companies.
“The LFA assures Mr Odinga its members are not “in Europe” – they are living and working very hard right here on the ground in Laikipia,” said the statement.
Raila, through his spokesperson Dennis Onyango, sought to clear the air.
“Ending the antagonistic relationship between pastoralists and ranchers and giving protection to each of the groups under the law constitute Mr Odinga’s position on the situation in Laikipia. Mr Odinga believes ranchers and pastoralists must be helped to co-exist and that the firm and fair hand of the State is the missing link. Mr Odinga promises to provide this once elected as president in the August elections,” Mr Onyango said.
“When the conflicts started early this year, with herders invading ranches for pasture and water, Mr Odinga called on the Government to open negotiations with the big ranchers with a view to having them provide the pastoralists with hay and water at a fee to be paid by the State. In a media statement dated February 12, 2017, Mr Odinga called on the Government to deploy agricultural extension officers to work with the ranchers and herders,” he added.
In March, herders killed rancher Tristan Voorspuy on the 24,000-acre Sosian Ranch before attacking conservationist Kuki Gallmann in the ensuing conflicts in April.