The Dominion Farm Limited, Yala Swamps Development has been under constant severe criticism for the alleged human rights and environmental abuses. But all these claims did not reflect what kind of massive but profitable project on the ground.
These allegations have been leveled by Action Aid, a British government supported or sponsored NGO and the so-called Kenya Land Alliance.
The information which are persistently made to the press has been consistently inaccurate and greatly exaggerated to the detriment of the very communities they are purpoting to defend.
In the year 2003, the Dominion Farm Limited secured approval from both Siaya and Bondo districts to lease 6,000 hectares of the Yala Swamp to develop an irrigation rice project and related crops. This represented only 30 per cent of the total swamp area. The remainder bordering lake Victoria was left untouched. The whole of Yala Swamp is estimated to cover an area of 17,000 hectares.
Before then 85 per cent of the local population of Siaya and Bondo were living below the poverty level.
There was little hope of employment of meaningful livelihood other than poaching in the swamp or fishing the dangerously over-fished water of Lake Victoria. There were inadequate medical and school facilities in the riparian areas.
Thanks goes to the American investor Mr Calvin Burgess from Oklahoma in the US who risked close to shs 2 billion in the Yala swamp major land reclamation project which has now turned the hitherto neglected fertile swamp land but into a bastion of food crops.
Before the DFL came into the picture, infrastructure was very poor, no proper roads and this had handicapped any small commercial enterprises and poor drinking water supply. Due to the desperate poverty in the area, there existed a chronic sense of insecurity which in turn led to suspicion and poor relations between communities.
But since April 2003 when DFL became operational, the percentage of the population living below the poverty line has dropped tremendously to 65 per cent. This is by no means a small achievement and it is due entirely to the job opportunities made available not only to employees of DFL but also service supplies to the company.
DFL employs over 1200 people from the area including skilled and casual labour. The company has rehabilitated five schools and two medical dispensaries as part of ongoing community development programme.
DFL resident country director Mr. Grahame Vetch was recently involved in free distribution of mosquito nets to close to 3000 families living on the Aduwa side of the river in Bondo district. All the rest which were distributed to the families free of charge were treated with anti mosquito drugs.
Having in mind that both Siaya and Bondo districts are malaria prone regions, DFL has embarked in planting of Artemisia plants to reduce the scourge of malarial death which is seen to have heavy impact in the region.
The seriousness of the scheme to reduce malarial deaths could be seen in the newly launched DFL honey production scheme. It is now producing herbal and natural honey from the Yala Group of the Lake Victoria Basin. The bees forage on the Yala plantations of Artemisia annual and anti malarial herbal plant and the sunflower which gives the honey produce on the farm a distinct golden look.
The prime harvest of DFL honey contains no additives and is suitable for use in its natural form. The DFL good quality honey which is naturally organized under cool storage can easily revert to its liquid form by increase in warmth. It is high in demand in supermarket stores all over Western Kenya.