The move by Murang’a County government to get rid of monkeys which have been destroying crops has elicited robust debate on the role of devolved units in the management of man-wildlife conflict.
Most of the discussions in vernacular radio stations and social media have zeroed on the amount of money allocated to the operation. Figures as high as Sh47 million have been thrown around probably to portray the county government as wasteful. But to focus on the cost is to miss the big picture.
In any case, documents show that the county government will spend Sh3 million only in the operation. These funds, the planning documents show, will go to funding local polytechnics to build traps to be used to arrest monkeys menace.
The bigger concern that most have missed is the contribution of monkeys to poverty and food scarcity in Murang’a. Having grown up in the county, I have a firsthand experience on the ravages of the monkeys on the rural economies.
I saw how my parents and siblings spent many hours warding off monkeys from crops, valuable time that would have been used to engage in other productive activities. For to be a peasant farmer in Murang’a is to enter into a year-long war with the monkeys.
From the time the farmer plants maize or beans, the monkeys follow from a safe distance digging and eating up the seeds. In every planting season, it was, and still is, the practice to plant the same field twice or thrice no matter how hard one tried to keep the monkeys from the farm.
As soon the seeds sprouted, the monkeys would be the first in the farm, uprooting and eating the young plants. When the beans flowered, the monkeys would feed on the flowers.
For the few plants whose flowers survived, the baby beans would be the next target for the primates. For maize, baby corn would be eaten up as they appeared.
In short, the fight between man and beast are sustained through out the life of the crop. And in most cases, man losses the war. Statistics on the impact of monkeys on farmers incomes are not available. But the experience from my father’s farm in Gaturi Ward is that we lose about half of the crops to monkeys.
In short, besides poor prices for farmers, monkeys are a major driver of rural poverty in Murang’a. This is also true in other counties with huge populations of monkeys. But the most disturbing fact about this conflict is the level of non-interest by government agencies to deal with the nightmare.
On several occasions, farmers in my village have asked the Kenya Wildlife Service to remove the monkeys from their farms. But the government agency has never had time to deal with the problem.
This in spite of the fact that if the farmers losses were computed over the last 50 years, the losses would amount to billions. Discussions on possible compensation for destroyed crops have been brushed aside as fast they were introduced.
In short, the attitude from KWS has been an indirect communication to farmers to the effect that “you are on your own.” This is why the initiative by Mwangi wa Iria’s government deserves commendation.
It deserves applause because it is the first time a government is getting directly involved in getting rid of one of the biggest causes of rural poverty. Someone had to act to save the long-suffering farmers of Murang’a. —The writer is a journalist, blogger and media strategist —[email protected]