Ms Florence Nekesa emerges from her house with a baby strapped on her back and a yellow plastic bucket ready for work at a nearby sand harvesting site.
Sand harvesting at Siungu beach in Bondo, Siaya County, is the source of livelihood for the mother of five.
Nekesa had initially tried her hand in fetching and selling firewood, but a decline in income forced her out of the trade. And now sand off-loading is proving a better gamble for the 27-year-old mother, as she can earn up to Sh300 on a good day.
Every day, dozens of trucks roar into Kanyibok and Siungu beaches for sand, leaving acres of destroyed farmland in their wake. “A six-wheel truck full of sand is charged at between Sh2,000 and Sh2,500, but I pocket Sh200 for off-loading the sand from the boats,” says Nekesa.
Nekesa and her fellow off-loaders scoop sand without minding about the adverse effects the activity has on the environment.
The business of sand harvesting for sale is so booming in the villages that the miners have closed their eyes and ears to the obvious risks on their farms besides the destruction of the area’s environment.
With the increased demand for the commodity, focus has shifted to harvesting sand in people’s farms, leaving crops precariously suspended on shaky ground.
Years of uncontrolled sand harvesting in the region that outpaces natural replenishment have greatly put pressure on agricultural land, destroyed vegetation, reduced fertile land and farm productivity, and eventually expose the whole community to food insecurity.
Mary Okello, a farmer whose farm has been submerged by the lake, says sand harvesters invaded her land under the cover of darkness and in the end she lost lost a quarter an acre.
“When I refused to let them harvest sand on my farm, they came at night, dredged and loaded their trucks,” says Okello.
A murram road snaking through Siungu and connecting to Goye beach has been abandoned by motorists who fear they might cave in.
Other than a series of gaping holes and destabilising shores, buildings and trees are also left leaning dangerously due to the loose earth on which they stand.
Even though extraction is rendering agricultural land barren, some sand harvesters insist they always get prior permission from the landowners.
“We have always sought consent from landowners. The deals are done above board and follow due process. This is like any other business where willing seller meets willing buyer,” says a sandminer at Kanyibok.
However, he says in some cases mining takes place without the owner’s consent, especially if he is not at the farm.
“These are isolated cases carried out by rogue harvesters who are in a hurry to make a killing. They scoop sand anticipating paying the owner at a later date,” he says.
NEMA County Director William Odeyo says all the sand harvesters have no licences.
“We have issued restriction orders to some of the harvesters but many of them have turned to employing unorthodox ways to beat the ban,” says Odeyo.
According to the national sand harvesting guidelines, 2007, on–farm sand harvesting and lakeshore/seashore sand harvesting should not exceed six feet in depth.
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