In June 2005, Land Minister Amos Kimunya issued a caveat limiting subdivision of private agricultural land to 2.5 acres. There ensued immediate and immense public outcry forcing him to revoked the gazette notice just three months later.
Concerns revolved around what families holding smaller parcels of land, particularly in the heavily developed parts of Nyanza, Western, Central and Middle Eastern regions of Kenya would do when it came to inheritance. There were concerns too about compelling subdivisions for land uses suitable for parcels smaller than two and half acres in high potential areas suitable for dairy and vegetable farming.
This matter still poses a great challenge for our country given that we need to guard against our declining agricultural production. Indeed, we need to guard against the declining sizes of pastoral land in the arid and semi-arid areas too.
But in addressing this issue, we mustn’t be overwhelmed by these techno-economic concerns without paying heed to the social-political implications of such statutes.
A century into our formal land administration system, routine cultural practices and the poverty that bites many families have greatly informed mind-sets when it comes to landholding.
CANNOT BE FAULTED
Lots of families sit on parcels of land far less than ten acres and intended beneficiaries may never see reason why their father’s eight acre parcel cannot be subdivided into four two acre parcels for their individual ownership.
They may never see why an acre of such land cannot be excised to sort out pending school or hospital bills. Such norms cannot be wished away when enacting today’s statutes.
This is the background that should have informed the drafters of the Minimum and Maximum Land Holding Acreage bill, recently published by CIC. The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution gave the public ten days with effect from the date of its notice to provide input to the bill. The notice expired on Friday.
The CIC cannot be faulted since it is responding to the demands of our Constitution. But living in Kenya and understanding the centrality of land, CIC should have appreciated the weight of the contents of the bill to landowners and provided a much better method of public consultation and input. That the line Ministry of Lands and the Commission slept on the job in failing to draft the bill for the last five years mustn’t be brought to bear on Kenyans.
But the time and process issues aside, what are the bill’s contents? The bill’s schedule for instance limits sizes of private land in high potential Counties of Kiambu, Meru, Embu, Bungoma and Busia to two and half acres. The same size limit applies to Kisumu, Kisii, Baringo, Kericho, Kajiado, Kitui and Machakos Counties.
Semi-Arid Counties of Garissa, Isiolo, Mandera, Turkana and Laikipia will have to contend with a minimum size of about 6 acres. The bill remains silent about existing parcels of land below these limits in the respective counties but provides that holders of land may voluntarily engage in cooperative farming by pooling their land and other resources together to enable them undertake large scale farming and sharing the earnings.
But it goes further to set maximum limits of the land a citizen may own. In Bomet, Bungoma, Kisii, Nandi and Vihiga Counties for instance, no one will be allowed to own more than 25 acres of land if the bill becomes law. No one will also own more than 25 acres in the prime parts of the counties of Kiambu, Embu, Kericho and Kilifi but the drier parts of these counties allows for a maximum of about 62 acres. In cities, municipalities and towns, no one will hold land in excess of five acres. There are provisions for exemptions by the Cabinet Secretary though.
What happens to land in excess of such maximums? Section 22 of the bill provides that the national or county government may acquire any “surplus” land and re-distribute it to landless persons capable of putting the land into economic use.
What’s not in doubt is that this proposed bill sets the stage for very emotive discussions. The provision of on minimum and maximum land holdings is what almost cost the country the referendum vote in many parts of Eastern, Central, Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza regions. But stakeholders pre-empted this by informing that people would be sufficiently consulted before such limits are set in law.
But with the bill coming at sunset, this will now not be possible and many Kenyans may feel short-changed.
The writer is chair, Land Development and Governance Institute, [email protected]