Restored rivers, sand dams offer alternative livelihoods to Makueni residents

Restored rivers, sand dams offer alternative livelihoods to Makueni residents
Restored rivers, sand dams offer alternative livelihoods to Makueni residents

Africa-Press – Kenya. Sand dams are now restoring hope to the once hopeless residents of some parts of Makueni County.

Scores of farmers spoke of the benefits from the dams in the “once very dry” areas as they joined other Kenyans in marking the World Environment Day on Wednesday.

“We now enjoy easy access of the available water for both domestic and irrigation, courtesy of sand dams,” Thomas Mutevu told reporters.

The locals marked the day by planting 20 bamboo trees as part of efforts to conserve Ikolia river in Malili division, Kilome sub-county.

This year’s theme was Land Restoration, Desertification and Drought Resilience.

Residents also conducted a clean-up exercise at Kiu market as they marked the day.

They noted that the achievements were realised after years of struggle, and when former Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana banned sand harvesting in the county.

“This area was a river which was totally destroyed by sand harvesters. You couldn’t pass here before devolution took effect since it was dominated by fierce youth who were controlling the uncontrolled sand harvesting trade,” Mutevu said.

They fought the sand harvesters in order to rehabilitate, conserve and protect rivers.

The fight turned physical, and several people lost their lives while others sustained injuries in parts like Kasikeu within the same sub-county.

In 2017, after successfully pushing out the fierce sand harvesters, residents constructed the Ikolia sand dam.

The ban on sand harvesting gave rise to opportunities to construct various dams across the county.

An earlier spot check by the Star in Mbooni sub-county found that the area has several sand dams.

Mutevu said sand mining left holes along Ikolia river and its environs. The sand had been depleted and the river dried up.

“But when Kibwana banned sand harvesting, it has helped us restore rivers. People are now farming in numbers,” he said.

The crops they grow include vegetables, maize, sugarcane, avocados, mangoes and beans.

“We used to buy vegetables from Mashuru. But, now, they are the ones who come for vegetables from us.”

Thanks to the locals’ efforts in environmental conservation, the area is now full of sand, trees and vegetation.

“Our sand dams and rivers must be protected. We are now happy since we have plenty of water and our farms are green,” Mutevu said.

Duncan Muli said the area was a desert between 2014 and 2015.

“We have things to be proud of as a community. Sand dams. Previously, this area was very dry. But, when we sat as a community and strategised on how we could reclaim this river, we have achieved lots of development,” Muli said.

Residents have been sensitised and now understand the importance of environmental conservation.

“When the youth were sensitised on alternative sources of livelihoods, our rivers started piling sand. Now, we have water, women no longer walk long distances for the commodity since clean water is available in abundance,” Muli said.

Disease outbreaks like cholera and malaria are no longer as prevalent as before, due to improved hygiene and sanitation among residents.

The youth are also economically empowered as they have taken up farming, with some becoming self-employed.

“Youth involvement in crime alongside drug and substance abuse has equally gone down,” Muli said.

Inades Formation Kenya Program Director John Mutua said Ikonia river was highly degraded when the NGO got to the area.

“The negative impact of the then rampant and uncontrolled sand harvesting in this area was high. But, with our intervention in collaboration with the county government of Makueni, we have been able to work with the community towards conservation of land and rivers, and as you can see, there is sand accumulation and locals are farming along the river.

“This has boosted food security as well as their income. We want other areas similar to this area, especially ASAL counties to emulate this and conserve rivers alongside environment for improved livelihoods,” Mutua said.

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