The Lands ministry has denied any knowledge of an arrangement between Kenya and Qatar to lease 40,000 hectares of its prime farm land to the Arabian country to grow food while over 10 million households face starvation.
As Kenya prepares to declare a national emergency in response to food shortages, the government's agricultural policies have come under growing scrutiny. A proposed deal to lease land to the government of Qatar for agricultural use has received particular attention.
Most of the produce from the proposed project, mainly vegetables and fruits, would be exported to the Gulf. Questions have been raised on why the Government has chosen to lease the land instead of engaging local farmers to boost food security in the country.
The reported land deal between Kenya and Qatar is not unique. The Philippines Department of Agrarian Reform said in 2007 it was looking at large tracts of land for agribusiness development under a MoU signed with China. The memo calls for the development of land to grow hybrid corn, rice and sorghum.
The area around Tana Delta which the government seeks to lease to the Qatari is of immense strategic value. It is fertile, has fresh water and, more importantly, is located in a region that has the highest potential oil and gas deposits in the country as well as other mineral deposits.
Proposals to sell off around 16,200 hectares of land in the Tana River delta to Qatar to grow vegetables and fruit in return for a new port in Lamu have again raised concerns for the future of the environmentally important area.
It has now emerged that the land in question is part of the fertile Tana River delta in Coast Province, the same stretch where plans by Mumias Sugar Company to build a sugar factory have raised objections from pastoralists claiming that their animals will lack pasture and the environment will be destroyed.
Stephen Marks looks at the latest rush by China and countries in the middle east to sign lease agreements in poor countries for agricultural production, and what this trend means in terms of food security and access to arable land for local populations.