Noah Cheploen @cheploennoah
Patel Coffee farm, the scene of Tuesday’s deadly flood disaster, is owned by Solai Group of Companies which deals in many products including coffee, macadamia cut flowers, dairy farming, pesticides and salt. It is a highly successful family-owned company which employs thousands of people in Mombasa, Thika and Solai in Nakuru.
The company provides a livelihood for many residents in Solai where the company, commonly known as Kwa Patel by residents, is located. It has invested in education, health facilities and roads as part of its corporate social responsibility. Some of the residents interviewed by People Daily in Solai were quick to defend the company following the dam tragedy, saying it was an accident like any other.
“Patel has done a lot of good things here. In fact he recently bought a bus for one of our schools and they have also been maintaining these roads. They have been doing this for many years,” said a resident who gave his name as Raphael.
Some residents, however, claimed they have voiced concerns about the safety of the dams to the authorities in the past but nothing was done about it. “It is like a deathtrap. When we talk about it, nobody listens now see what has happened?” Joseph Mwangi told People Daily.
He said that the flood from the burst dam had swept away his quarter-acre farm of tomatoes. “I expected to harvest about 25 crates of tomatoes from which I would have obtained money to pay fees for my children but my plans have been ruined,” he said. Residents also accused local leaders of failing to act on their concerns.
According to locals, the dam collapsed from the pressure of a huge volume of water. Others said the dam didn’t have an outlet. The farm sits on an estimated 3,000 hectares of land situated along Nakuru-Solai road. Visitors have been flocking to the scenic farm which the Patels are in the process of turning into a private wildlife sanctuary.
“People from different parts of the country come to see animals here. It’s a beautiful place,” a resident said. According to residents, there are about 10 large dams in the farm which are mainly used for irrigation, particularly of coffee and hundreds of greenhouses dotting the farm.
Residents say the dams were built many years ago by the white settlers and the Patels inherited three of them. There were conflicting reports about the size of the burst dam but going by the huge trail of destruction, there is no doubt it is huge.
Yesterday, Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i led a team of government officials to the farm as the country came to terms with the tragedy.