The Senate Committee on Lands, Environment and Natural Resources has said it will recommend that thousands of farmers who grow rice in the expansive Mwea Irrigation Scheme get title deeds.
The committee, sitting at the Wangu’ru National Irrigation Board offices in Kirinyaga County on Tuesday, noted that the farmers have been struggling to get the documents in order to become legal land owners and they must be assisted to get them.
But the committee said the farmers will get conditional title deeds so as to protect the giant scheme which generate Sh8 billion every season from collapsing.
"We want to ensure that once the documents are issued, the scheme, which is Kenya’s rice granary, is not subdivided into small uneconomical units," said Kirinyaga Senator Charles Kibiru.
The committee sought views from the farmers after Mr Kibiru petitioned the Senate seeking to have them given title deeds so as to become legal owners of the rice fields.
Committee Chairman Mwangi Githiomi said the farmers should get the documents so as to access bank loans for development purposes.
"We shall recommend to the Ministries of Land and Agriculture that there is urgent need for the farmers to acquire the documents. Farmers have been facing hurdles when seeking loans from banks. The documents, if issued, will be used as securities for growers seeking loans," said Mr Githiomi.
TENANTS SINCE 1958
Farmers complained that they have been tenants since 1958 and that they should now be issued with title deeds.
"It is the appropriate time that we get the documents," said Ms Grace Wanyaga when giving her views to the committee.
"As farmers we have been living as tenants in our own country for more than fifty years after independence and time has come to be freed from the chains of oppression," said another farmer, Amos Kareithi.
Farmers have been agitating for the withdrawal of the board from the scheme so that they can be independent rice growers.
They said that when the government took over the fields for rice farming and research from the community, it promised to hand it back after 20 years.
The farmers said that twenty years are now over yet the government is yet to move out of the scheme, which is the largest in East and Central Africa.
In 1998, the farmers rebelled against the scheme’s board, accusing it of exploitation and refusing to vacate the land and attempted to take over the rice farms by force.
During the takeover attempts, police shot dead two farmers were while scores were injured while property worth millions of shillings was destroyed.
Earlier, the Senate committee warned that those who may have grabbed land within the scheme will face the law.