The launch of Land National Use Policy this week to comprehensively address land issues sends positive vibes and should easily resonate. What’s more, it comes against a backdrop of scaled up digitisation of land records at Ardhi House, in recent months.
Provisions in the rolled out policy in the Sessional Paper No.1 of 2017, aim to guide sustainable land use, pricing, challenges posed by rapid urbanisation and intrusive informal settlements, population density, equity concerns and land fragmentation which imperils maximisation of food production.
The brazen misuse of riparian land has seen developers put up structures too close to river banks, prompting collapse of buildings while encroachment on water towers is blamed for distortion in precipitation patterns and levels.
If effected with conviction, the new policy could significantly cut back or even eliminate the litany of setbacks and blood letting linked to competition for land. But equally crucial is the fact that their fulfilment and realisation will align the policy pillars with President Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda; more so industrialisation, which land pricing inhibits, food security and housing. A deterrent to investment in this country is prohibitive cost of land as reflected in the huge cost of the Standard Gauge Railway.
Digitisation, if conclusively undertaken, should streamline land matters because currently, land transactions continue to be defined by opaqueness and unnecessary paperwork and bureaucracy which allow cartels to thrive.
Due to sensitivity and huge sentimental and monetary investments attached to it, land also is catalyst for volatility and flare-ups between and among individuals, families and groups. Not surprisingly, land has been the subject of countless commissions both in colonial and post-colonial Kenya. The Sessional Paper No.1 should ensure measures and systems that promote efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Whereas the National Land Commission Act of 2012 provides broad legal framework and policy roadmap over land matters, putting in place legal instruments, institutions and infrastructure to underpin ownership and acquisition, balancing needs of use, capping and tenure remain not only elusive but also tinderbox.
It is for this reason that comprehensively rationalising land issues is critical. But even with the latest move, we may not be out of the woods yet because, in truth, there is no deficit of laws on this matter. Our Achille’s heel collectively has to do with integrity gaps and weak ethical environment.
According to Kenya Land Alliance, fragmentation poses grave threat amplified by the Agricultural Land Act, which stipulates the minimum acreage that arable land can be divided. Because of ownership mode, few follow the regulations and so land gets progressively sub-divided into economically unviable portions.