The rising population and bad terrain have conspired to pose a new challenge to Kisii and Nyamira counties, who may need more land for expansion of their urban centres.
The high population growth rate and insatiable demand for land has led to frequent land-related conflicts and encroachment on public spaces and protected areas.
Kisii had an estimated 1.1 million people in 2009, when the last census was conducted. It is estimated that has risen to 1.36 million by now. Nyamira is estimated to host 650,000 people.
Land sizes in the counties have continued to shrink as people sub-divide their plots.
Kisii measures about 1,318km² while Nyamira is about 912.5km² and, with the continued rise in population, residents have been forced to look for land in other counties, in a bid to satisfy their thirst for ownership and use.
Nyamira has a high population density of about 700 people per square kilometre.
This average is, however, less because of the availability of tracts of land that have tea farming multinationals, forest cover and agricultural settlement schemes.
Traditionally, residents sub-divide land to distribute among their sons as part of their inheritance. But this has hindered meaningful large-scale investments and agribusiness.
Most residents in both counties occupy less than an eighth of land, leaving no room for commercial agriculture.
It is in Nyamira’s Borabu constituency where people own more than 10 acres of land, with affluent families owning more than 50 acres.
While the local economy mainly depends on farming and business, Nyamira Governor John Nyagarama says the ever-increasing paper-based land records and manual land management system is not amenable for effective administration.
As a solution, his county announced it will collaborate with the Department of Resource Surveys and Remote Sensing to conduct aerial photography of land sizes.
“The project will enable the county to develop Geographic Information System (GIS ) based maps and establishment of survey control points. The GIS data platform will transform the land use analysis system and decision making,” said Mr Nyagarama.
In Kisii, lack of land has stalled county projects, with Governor James Ongwae’s mega city project having to be put on hold.
County Communications Director Machuka Maseme says: “We have to consolidate pieces of land to get the 100 acres required for the project.”
But residents doubt the project will ever be realised. “Where will they get that land? Who will agree to be relocated far away from town?” asked Ms Mary Bosibori, a resident of Daraja Mbili.
But Mr Machuka says there is nothing much they can do about regulation of land use, “because land is not devolved”.
With the shortage of land for agriculture, the county is not able to grow enough food for its consumption and is, therefore, forced to buy from neighbouring counties.
A study conducted by the African Women’s Studies Centre of the University of Nairobi, under its food security project, showed that food insecurity was a serious issue in the region. The study noted that the large family sizes in the county contributed significantly to food insecurity. “If the residents were to be taught about effective family planning methods and practices, they would have adequate sizes of families which correspond to the income they generate,” stated the report.