- A High Court has ordered the development of a controversial $370 million sugar and biofuels project in Kenya's Tana River Delta, guaranteeing a temporal reprieve.
Mumias Sugar Company's intention to convert 20,000 hectares of the Tana Rive Delta to plant sugarcane has raised anger and opposition of local and international conservationists, fearing that the proposal would threaten biodiversity and livelihood of local communities.
Tana Delta is a home to over 350 species of bird and large assemblage of globally threatened wildlife including nine plants, five fish, two amphibians, two primates and two reptiles.
Mumias was ordered to stop making any further decisions regarding implementation of the sugar project as well as halted the Tana River County Council from taking any action in respect to the land which is the subject of the suit. It also barred Kenya's Commissioner of Lands from issuing a title deed for the land and the Water Resources Management Authority from issuing a water permit to the Tana Integrated Sugar Project.
The court's landmark decision has been welcomed by national and international conservationist groups, particularly BirdLife International and Nature Kenya. The groups mounted strong campaign against sugar project.
"This is a very welcome move", Paul Matiku the Executive Director, Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) said in a statement.
"It is victory for the local communities that took the government to court. Nature Kenya and institutions under the umbrella of Kenya Wetlands Forum will now fight even harder to have the sugarcane project permanently stopped", he said.
Ken Mwathe of BirdLife's Africa Partnership Secretariat was optimistic that the implementation of the project will not likely lead to the improvement of the lives of the local people but will leave a trail of damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity.
The sugarcane project was not only cleared by Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) in June this year, but it was also issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license. Environmental groups scolded Kenyan authorities for their failure to balance arguments from both sides.
"An independent economic study showed that the project was heavily overvalued because the costs of water, land and loss of community livelihoods were ignored," said Serah Munguti, the Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at Nature Kenya. "Yet, NEMA ignored this information. At the same time the conditions in the EIA licence issued by NEMA were too weak," she added.
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