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Dominion Farms hands over Yala swamp to new investor

Thursday January 23 2020

Dominion Farms' offices

A sign indicating location of Dominion Farms' offices in Siaya County. The firm has officially handed over Yala swamp to Lake Agro Limited.. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

DICKENS WASONGA
By DICKENS WASONGA
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American firm Dominion Farms Limited which held a 25-year lease for Yala swamp land in Siaya County has officially handed it over to Lake Agro Limited.

A Gazette Notice dated January 13 indicates that Dominion Farms, which initially occupied land measuring 3,700 hectares within the Yala swamp will, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions, surrender the lease to Lake Agro Limited.

Lake Agro will now assume full responsibility to carry on with their business on the same parcels of the swamp land.

LIABILITIES

Amongst the conditions set out in the notice is that all the debts and liabilities owed by Dominion Farms will be the responsibility of the American investor.

"Lake Agro Limited will not assume nor [does] it intend to assume any liabilities whatsoever incurred by Dominion in the business up to the date of transfer," the notice reads.

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The group, owned by Calvin Birges, stopped operations in the expansive swap land on November 10, 2017 following a controversy with the local community.

JOBLESS

Their decision rendered over 350 of its former staff jobless.

Mr Birges, who had occupied the swamp land, growing rice, sugarcane and rearing fish for close to 15 years, complained of alleged frustrations by local politicians whom he said made it difficult for him to continue doing business in the area.

Former employees of the farm allege that Dominion owes them over Sh350 million, while a further Sh900 million is due to suppliers.

Early last year, the Siaya County government tabled a request by the investor to be allowed to transfer the lease, which it had been given by the now defunct Siaya and Bondo county councils, to the incoming investor.

During debates, ward representatives demanded that the investor implements the entire report of the assembly by first resurveying the expansive swamp land and adopting the recommendation of the land use plan.

RENEGOTIATE MOU

The MCAs also demanded that the MoU that was entered into earlier between the American investor and the former local authorities be renegotiated to include the setting aside of at least 5,000 hectares of the swamp land to the local community.

On Tuesday, while addressing the press within the assembly precincts, Central Alego MCA called on Governor Cornel Rasanga’s administration to speed up the implementation of the recommendations.

He also called on the new investor to put up a sugar factory in the county before starting full operations.

"We want the workers to also be paid what is due to them. The accrued land rates and rent must also be recovered as well as the money owed to suppliers," he said.

COMMUNITY LAND

In September last year, people living around the swamp embarked on a fresh bid to have the area registered as community land.

The locals argued that the move was to wade off cartels who are positioning themselves to benefit from the ongoing surveying of the swamp land as ordered by the National Land Commission (NLC).

The drive followed a directive in April 2019 by NLC, which ordered a fresh survey of the swamp by the county government of Siaya.

It followed a successful petition by the locals in 2018 to the land commission to have them included in the ownership of the land.

In a Gazette Notice on March 1, 2019, NLC approved their complaints and recommended that the Ministry of Land and the county government of Siaya should re-survey the swamp and determine the acreage occupied by the American investor.