Not long ago, Ngaaie market in Kyuso sub-county of Kitui county was a sleepy trading centre. One could easily describe it as a desolate rural market in the middle of nowhere due to its locality in the semi-arid, sun -scorched Mwingi North constituency.
Overlooking the market on the south is an expansive rocky hill stretching 10km. The residents here attribute their changing fortunes and fast-earned riches leading to development of the trading centre to discovery of huge amounts of limestone on this hill.
Today, Ngaaie market is beaming with new buildings, booming businesses and mushrooming residential houses as business focus shifts from Mwingi town 60km away.
This came after Athi River Mining (ARM) Company struck huge deposits of limestone in Ngaaie hills and signed land compensation deals with the landowners to pave way for extraction of the limestone. Ever since ARM entered the area, life in the area has changed as the beneficiaries adopt urban living standards.
Making a killing are land brokers who have hiked the prices after subdividing farms into small plots of 30ft by 40ft, which are selling at between Sh250,000 and Sh300,000, up from as low as Sh25,000 two years ago.
“Imagine, just last year, a 50ft by 100ft plot in Ngaaie cost Sh80,000, but now it is ranging from Sh450,000 to Sh500,000,’’ says Mutua Mutia, a boda boda operator.
He says land compensation has not only led to fast expansion of the town, but also improved trade as the beneficiaries have invested in building and construction sector, bars, restaurants and transport, among others.
The two-phase land compensation and development payout saw 600 families receive Sh150,000 per acre of land while development compensation depended on buildings and investments one had undertaken in the homestead.
Although a few people objected to the deal with the cement maker, the majority supported the project, saying the rocky, semi-arid land has never benefited them anyway as it is not ideal for farming activities. Kimanzi Maluki, a 60-year-old man living with disability, is perhaps the highest beneficiary after parting with 63 acres. He has used the proceeds to buy and construct residential houses at Ngaaie.
“I have purchased seven plots and already developed five of them. I intend to start a Sh3 million hardware business to tap the potential of the lucrative buildings construction sector ongoing in the area,” he says.
Maluki says the ongoing compensation of land by ARM is an undertaking in readiness for limestone extraction has not only improved the lifestyles of villagers, but has also lured investors from outside the county.
Previously, only one matatu (a Probox car) plied the Ngaaie-Nguni route, but now there are more than 10. Maluki is asking the investor to fasten compensation for developments on the land and to also reach out to a few people who felt aggrieved by the deal.
“There is an urgent need for the cement maker to reach a truce with those who have refused to take the compensation for some reasons,” he says.
One of the aggrieved residents, Marsden Kithome, claims that the land in the mineral cut-line was not properly surveyed as the private surveyor undervalued some parcels, denying some landowners value of their land.
“The land sizes as surveyed by the private surveyor and the government surveyor differed, hence raising issues on the accuracy of acreage,’’ says Kithome.
“The landowners could have benefited more if they had leased the land instead of selling it,” he adds. ARM managing Director, Pradeep Paunrana, says Ngaaie will turn into an industrial hub. “A clinker and a cement manufacturing plant will be constructed here that will lead to creation of 7,000 jobs both directly and indirectly, increasing economic status of the area,” he says.
Speaking during the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the county government to undertake the project, Paunrama promised to establish new homes for those to be displaced by the project.
He said modern schools will be built and existing ones refurbished in addition sinking boreholes, establishing a health centre and industrial park in line with the firm’s social corporate responsibility plans.