Big Story 10

'I haven't been given my share': young Kenyans' long wait to inherit land

CHEBORGEI, Kenya (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mid-morning in Cheborgei village in Kericho County - and against the stunning backdrop of vivid green fields of tea - some farmers were still plucking leaves while others packed tea into sacks ready for transportation to collection centers.

A man walks in the early morning to start his day picking tea leaves at a plantation in Nandi Hills, in Kenya's highlands region west of capital Nairobi, November 5, 2014. REUTERS/Noor Khamis

Like rural populations across Kenya, the people of this village in the Rift Valley highlands, 186 miles (300 km) west of Nairobi, rely heavily on agriculture for their livelihoods.

But younger generations say a livelihood from farming is increasingly beyond their reach, as they are sidelined from owning and accessing land by older relatives reluctant to pass it on.

In rural Kenya, land is passed from parents to mainly male heirs through inheritance, but younger men say their elders are not observing this tradition because they lack information on transferring land, are put off by the costs or don’t trust them.

“After I finished primary school in 2004, my parents were unable to raise fees for my secondary education so I stayed at home to help them on the farm,” Wesley Kirui, 28, said at the Kibugat tea collection station a few miles from Cheborgei.

Kirui says he has managed to carve out his own niche in the tea business despite owning no land, and was visiting the station to buy tea leaves to sell to multinational companies.

As farmers began arriving with sacks of tea leaves ready to be taken away by young men on motorbike taxis, known as “boda boda”, he said work on his father’s farm earned him around 150 shillings ($1.48) a day.

However life was difficult and eventually, he looked around for an alternative way to make a living.

“My father couldn’t accept [giving] me a space to farm. He always tells me I am grown up enough to go and look for my own income, so I got employed by my neighbor as a tea broker and I left our farm,” he said.

His complaints were echoed by Bernard Koskei, a 32-year-old father of two, who decided to open a shop after finally giving up on taking over his father’s tea farm.

“For me, I haven’t been given my share and even when you work for the family’s tea farm, you will get nothing,” he said.

“My children need to go to school, [to] get food and clothing so I can’t rely on that because my father won’t even listen to it.”

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According to the 2015 Economic Review of Agriculture, agriculture accounts for 18 percent of employment in the formal sector and 60 percent of employment in both formal and informal jobs in Kenya.

The unemployment rate for youth in Kenya is 17 percent, according to the World Bank.

Joseah Bii, a retired teacher, said many parents today were reluctant to trust the younger generation with land.

“Most parents would prefer to hold on to their land than release it to these young men. This is because the next day they sell it to buy a motorbike, so many parents fear that,” he said.

One of the older farmers, Daniel Chepkwony, said that as he had struggled to pay school fees for his children it was up to them to look for their farms themselves.

“If you are a man, you should work hard and that is our tradition,” he added.

But another older farmer, 72-year-old Matthew Soi, said he was uncertain about his own legal rights to his land.

“My parents died a long time ago. The land is registered under their name, and we are staying [there] like tenants. How can I get the land transferred and registered under my name?”

The process of acquiring a legal title was tedious and costly, he said, and it was risky to give land to young people.

“You don’t joke with land. If you give it to these young men, they can sell it any time as they don’t know the value of land. When they are left with nothing, they come back to you for help,” he said. “Some families are landless as we speak.”


Although Kenya’s constitution stipulates that land must be used and managed in an equitable, efficient, productive and sustainable way, equal access to land and land security present specific challenges for the younger generation, experts say.

In rural Kenya, where customary land acquisition and control are practiced and the option of buying land is unaffordable for most, relying on inheriting land may mean a long wait for younger generations who hope to earn a living from farming.

A lack of information prevents older farmers passing on their land, Andrea Cheruiyot, the area chief, said.

“Most of these elderly people don’t have information about land issues and they fear the high cost of the succession process. Therefore, some still hold on to their land even though they are unable to farm it,” the chief said.

Francis Terer, a member of the Kericho County Assembly from Cheboin ward, said land management must become more inclusive.

“People should be informed about land title acquisition, transfer processes and there should be more barazas (village meetings) to educate them on the importance of involving the youth and allowing them to have access to land,” he said.

The process of land transfers is complicated further by a widespread lack of proper documentation, making it difficult for people to get hold of the papers that prove ownership.

Ibrahim Mwathane, chairman of the Land Governance Institute, a think tank based in Nairobi, said the government has a role to play in improving access to land.

“The government should update the land register and make the land acquisition process more friendly and affordable for many,” Mwathane said.

Jonathan Shivazi, senior assistant surveyor in the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning, said parents should ensure that their land is transferred to younger family members before they die, with the help of the land control board.

This would help to avoid inheritance disputes later on and increase youth access to land, he said.

But not owning land did not hold back Kirui, who spent four years as a casual worker to save enough capital to start his own green tea business.

“I no longer relied on my parents. I raised enough capital and started my own business of buying and selling tea, which is paying me very well,” he said.

“Today, I am like any other person who owns a tea farm.”

($1 = 101.3000 Kenyan shillings)