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Kenya: mine all mine.

A Canadian company's determination to mine titanium in Kenya has sparked controversy over environmental and other concerns. But the company still wants to go ahead. "Would they operate the same way in Canada?" asks one of the locals whose land is affected by the project. Cathy Majtenyi and Clement Njoroge report from Nguluku, Kenya.

Charles Mutula loves his farm. His eyes glow with pride as he points out the tangerine trees, cashew plants, and other crops on his lush 22.5-acre farm perched high in the rolling, green hills of Kwale District, about an hour's drive southwest from the coastal city of Mombasa.

Although Mutula is a teacher by profession, the farm is clearly his passion. He and his family have been farming fist 12 years, an activity that has allowed him to put his four children through school and pay his family's medical bills. "The farm gives me everything I need," he says, adding that his teacher's salary is just a "supplement" to the family's income.

Unfortunately for Mutula, his farm borders the site of a proposed titanium mining project, to be carried out by the Toronto-based Tiomin Resources Inc. Since 1997, the Canadian company has conducted exploration activities on 56 square kilometres in the area.

The land is 65 km south of Mombasa and includes the Nguluku and Maumba areas of Kwale District. It lies about 20 km away from the clustering of hotels and cottages for tourists. The world-famous Shimba Hills National Reserve is an -- hour drive to the south. Tiomin's proposed sire falls within the sacred "Kaya" forests of the Digo people.

Tiomin is now waiting for the Kenyan government to approve the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted by Coastal and Environmental Services of South Africa, which Tiomin hired to do its EIA. The company -- which submitted its EIA to the government on 28 April -- appears close to making a deal with the government.

If it does, Tiomin plans to strip off the top layer of soil in an area approximately five square kilometres. It will then dig as deep as 30 metres, initially using about 3,500 cubic metres of water per hour-primarily from the Mkutumunju River and the Msambweni, aquifer in its operations. The company also plans to build a tailings dam nearby.

Early exploration reports indicate that the area contains 200 million tonnes of titanium and zirconium-bearing sands, containing ilmenite, rutile and zircon. The company estimates it will produce over 300,000 tonnes of ilmenite, 75,000 tonnes of rutile and 37,000 tonnes of premium zircon each year during the first six years of production, which will represent about 4% of the current world consumption.

The US$137m investment (KSh9.5 billion) is expected to run for 14 years and generate about $50 to $60 million a year in foreign exchange earnings, says Mathew Edler, Tiomin's vice president of corporate development. According to company reports, the development of Kwale is projected to yield a cumulative net after-tax cash flow of about U$172m.

What happens to the people?

The land so rich in minerals is also home to an estimated 4,695 farmers and their families in the Nguluku and Maumba areas. These include farmers with legal ride to their land and "squatter" farmers who were resettled in the area by the government up to 30 years after independence, though they have never been issued with tide deeds. These farmers. currently have no legal rights to their land, even after occupying the land for all that time.

Since 1997, Tiomin personnel and local government officials have been approaching farmers with compensation packages for relocation and eventual return to their land in 21 years' time, after Tiomin's proposed lease runs out. This is despite the fact that the Kenyan government has not officially approved Tiomin's project.

Tiomin has offered Charles Mutula and the other farmers with title deeds worth $142 (KSh11,000) a year for each acre they own plus additional money for their crops and houses. According to an independent study by Kenyatta University's Faculty of Environmental Studies, land in the area sold from $90 (KSh7,000) per acre to $779 (KSh60,000) from 1996 to 1999, making an average price of $275 (KSh2l,200) an acre.

Mutula refused the offer. "The rate given there is too little," he says. "You can't survive on that [amount]."

He points to a nearby tangerine tree. "In one harvest, I can get 10 bags of oranges. I can get KSh200 to 300 ($2.50 to 3.80) [a bag], depending on the season. The harvesting is done three times a year. From that, you can count." The total that Mutula makes from one tangerine tree is almost as much as Tiomin offered for one of his acres a year. Mutula has 300 tangerine trees.

After expenses, Mutula says he makes $9,870 (KSh750,000) a year from farming in a good year. He predicts that there will be a food shortage in Kwale District and across the country if the farmers have to move away from the agriculturally rich area.

Another farmer, Afusa Hassan, also feels shortchanged. Tiomin was willing to pay her $8.20 (KSh638) a year for each of her coconut trees. She says that in a year, one tree produces 300 to 400 coconuts, which can fetch her a total of $19-25 (KSh1,500 to 2,000). Afusa has 450 coconut trees on her farm.

Those considered "squatters" are denied compensation for their land and are only being offered money for their trees and houses, says Joseph Kioko. Kioko, who was born on the 10-acre farm his family purchased in 1968, also found out -- for the first time -- from company and government officials that his family members are squatters. To find out that you are a squatter in your own land and country can't be expressed," he says.

Two years ago, a group of farmers met with Tiomin officials to raise the company's $142 (KSh11,000) per acre per year to $779 (KSh60,000), says Mary Sarah Otieno, a member of the Maumba Nguluku Farmer's Committee.

"They told us, there is no way to adjust the figures but if it is agreeable the amount [of Ksh2,000 per acre per year] can be increased by 25%," Sarah told New African. "The farmers themselves were split on the issue, with some arguing that the money was enough while others said it was too little. There are farmers who are very poor and who would be comfortable with KSh500,000 [$6,493]." But they refused the offer.

Mambo-jambo

Many of the farmers didn't -- or couldn't -- read the compensation agreements that Tiomin presented from house to house, and some felt compelled to sign, says Mutula. "They signed because they were told to sign. They were not given the foil derails."

Tiomin's vice-president Edler denies that this happened: "That [signing] was totally optional: if you want to sign, fine, if you don't, you don't. Basically, everyone has [signed]," Edict said, adding that at one point he offered to allow people to get our of their agreements. No one cancelled.

Oduor Ong'wen executive director of the environmental NGO, EcoNews Africa, criticised Tiomin and the government for keeping compensation discussions "secret" until Tiomin presented its "take it or leave it" package.

"If people had been told what was going to happen," says Ong'wen, "they would have been able to value what they were going to lose, and be able to negotiate." He also says Tiomia's EIA should have been accompanied by a "very comprehensive social impact assessment."

The National Council of NGOs -- a consortium of human rights, environmental and other local, national and international NGOs -- has been active in advocating for farmers' rights and exanining Tiomin's project. It has submitted to the government a detailed report analysing Tiomin's EIA, pointing out many environmental and social concerns.

There have also been independent studies from Kenyatta University and the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN), among others.

Farmers and NGOs say they are not against Tiomin's project as such. They want fair compensation for farmers' land, more government involvement to protect farmers' rights, a dear idea of what benefits they and the country will receive from Tiomin's project, and more information on the project's environmental and other costs.

Tiomin vice-president Edler says Tiomin calculated its compensation figures by using historical and registered valuations of land and crops supplied to the company by the Kwale District agricultural officer. Initially, Tiomin was negotiating for land that was deserted because the owners had died, but felt that the offer needed to be open to everyone, says Edler.

According to him, Tiomin has given out approximately $181,818 (KSh14m) to 80 titled land owners since 1997. "That's quite a lot [of money] for some of them." Edler also stresses that it is "standard practice" to provide compensation only for the current use of the land. "If you own land in Kenya, you do not own the minerals that are underneath your land," he adds.

A committee of technical experts from the ministries of lands, health, agriculture, and water and environment are currently examining Tonmin's EIA and public submissions.

When asked what benefits Tiomin will bring to the area and the country, Edler painted to the foreign exchange earnings of $50 to $60 million a year, the creation of 200 direct (initially to be filled by expatriates) and 1,000 indirect jobs, and the upgrading of roads and other infrastructure.

Given the unresolved controversy over the compensation package and environmental concerns, Ong'wen wonders whether Tiomin should proceed.

"Would they [Tiomin] operate the same way in Canada?" he asked. "Sometimes they use double standards when operating abroad. If these were the concerns being raised by the Canadian population, would they have still gone ahead?"
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Author:Majtenyi, Cathy; Njoroge, Clement
Publication:New African
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
Words:1629
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