Andrew Kachila and his friends ponder about the massive amounts of sand deposited in their village farms. They are unemployed youth who could deploy their untapped energies into solving the problem of sand deposits.
The farms and the nearby roads are covered in tons and tons of sand brought by storm water from the hills. Building contractors in the village, in Voi town, and all the way to Mombasa are ready to pay cash. Some of them have trucks and machinery they could bring to the village. The village is potentially sitting on riches but there is a catch.
The county government of Taita Taveta does not like the sand harvesting business. The county government has banned the business several times in the past and each time the business is allowed, there are tougher rules that make it harder for unemployed young people to benefit from the trade. At the moment, sand harvesting remains suspended as a measure to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic.Taita Taveta county is well placed to become the largest supplier of building sand to the coast region.
“The road is impassable to vehicles because of all this sand, even motorbikes have difficulties passing here,” says Kachila. “We are young men with the strength to remove all this sand and make the road passable but if we do that we will get arrested.” The youths lament that they could get as much as Shs 15,000 for a trailer load of sand if the county government allowed the business to continue. Such money could make a big difference in the impoverished village.
Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the county government banned sand harvesting in December 2019 after several houses were destroyed by flood waters along the Voi River. Governor Granton Samboja blamed sand harvesting for the flooding. The ban on sand harvesting was lifted in March 2020 but tough conditions were set for those wanting to participate in the business. Among the conditions was the formation of sand harvesting cooperative societies at the various locations where sand is harvested. The cooperatives have to seek environmental impact assessment for the sand harvesting sites and that each truckload of sand pay cess levies to the county government.
Several pronouncements by county government officials show that the real motive of the county government is the revenue to be collected in cess fees rather than protecting riparian land from sand harvesting. Speaking at Voi sub county offices in February, County Executive Committee Member (CECM) in charge of Finance and Economic Planning Andrew Kubo said the sand harvesting sector has the potential to contribute more than Shs 50 million as revenue hence the new regulations.
In a statement encouraging youth groups to get registered, the county’s Chief Officer for Finance and Economic Planning, Leonard Langat, said the county government plans to give five per cent of revenue collected from sand harvesting back to registered groups. There was no mention of rehabilitating the environment.
“There are people from Mombasa interested in buying sand from us but they are scared of getting arrested by the county government,” says Kachila. There is little the young men in that village can do about the situation. Meanwhile, the sand keeps piling up in the farms each time it rains.
Taita Taveta county is well placed to become the largest supplier of building sand to the coast region. In Mombasa, for example, the locally available sources of sand have been depleted forcing the construction industry to seek alternatives further inland.
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