From email@example.com Sat Mar 25 06:09:59 2000
Rice Farmers Battle For Their Rights
By Judith Achieng', IPS, 20 March 2000
NAIROBI, March 20 (IPS) - In Jan last year, Maina Karuiya and Chege Mukundi, were shot dead, allegedly by Kenyan police at Ngarubani, a market within the Mwea rice growing scheme located some 200 kilometres north of the capital, Nairobi.
They were among 3,000 rice farmers who protested against exploitation by the National Irrigation Board (NIB), a government body charged with the responsibility of overseeing the processing and marketing of rice in the East African country.
The farmers declared that they had taken over the growing and marketing of their own rice. This resulted in violent clashes with the police.
"We were slaves of the NIB. After you harvest all the rice, you must hand it over to the NIB. And then you are not allowed to keep cattle or even chicken without the authority of the manager," said Benson Karimi, a farmer.
The trials and tribulations of Mwea rice farmers is recorded in "Dying to be Free: The Struggle for Rights in Mwea" the latest report complied by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).
The report, launched this week, tells the moving story of the rice growing community's struggle against government policies governing the scheme.
Mutuma Ruteere, the author of the report, describes how the philosophy behind Kenya's agricultural laws is at odds with the International Bill of Human Rights, and how the political and economic infrastructure has been used to promote human rights violations.
According to the scheme, farmers were forced to deliver all their rice to the board after harvesting. The manager of the board decided after delivery how many bags to give back to the farmers for subsistence.
Farmers reportedly had to make do with 12 bags of rice each regardless of family size and the fact that rice is a one-season crop.
"Growing rice is a hard job. But the 12 bags are everything-food, money to buy vegetables, cooking fat, soap, clothes educate the children and pay hospital bills," says John Njoroge, a rice farmer in the area.
The law also dictates that women in the scheme, including the widowed cannot not own land and once a child reaches 18, they are expected to leave the scheme.
"We did not know whether this was a job or slavery," notes Karimi.
"The multiple violations of rights have also gone hand in hand with the violation of the rights for political and association rights through forced silence and harassment, and any attempts to question a government official would be suppressed with the full might of the state," says the report.
"Mwea represents the horror of planned deprivation of citizens by their own government. It is a symbol of continued dominance of colonial ideology of power in post colonial Kenya," the report adds.
The farmers struggle is a complete picture of the denial and of a series of various rights, from association to economic," notes the KHRC report.
"As farmers point out, the NIB has had no room for farmers" involvement in the decision making over their own rice and their own fate. The provincial administration, a throwback from the colonial days has been the instrument of control in the same manner as it was under colonialism."
The farmers' testimonies, reproduced in the report, say they not only got unfair price for their crop, but that the same crop was being produced under conditions of squalor, and taken away by the force of the gun and the threat of the law.
Amidst this poverty, farmers have also had to pay for the recurrent expenditures of the NIB through deductions, the report says.
"We have had no representative. Landlord NIB did not want tenants (farmers) to know what work he did in his offices, about paddy prices or government policies on the scheme development, says Caterina Muthoni, another rice farmer.
The farmers have estimated their annual contributions to NIB operational expenditures at 127, 827, 480 shillings, most of which goes to the salaries of its employees.
(one United States Dollar is equal to 71 shillings)
Now although the farmers have taken over the rice industry, the war with the government body is far from over. NIB now claims the rice produced by farmers is "unfit for human consumption and that it has nails and stones."
Farmers also have to deal with the sticky issue of the five million-shilling rice mills, which had been started as a joint project between the farmers and the National Irrigation Board.
Though owned jointly, the farmers complain that they have not received dividends for the last five years. In January this year, the attempted to take over the mills as well, but were reportedly stopped by armed police.
Now the farmers have to make do with small, but single pass hurlers, which can hardly separate broken grain from whole, making their rice less competitive in the market.
The farmers claim they are now forced to sell their rice at a giveaway prices because the government has refused to hand over the mill. A two-kilogramme packet of Mwea rice now sells for 54 shillings instead of the 62 shillings when the board was in charge.
"The NIB has no right of ownership of the land and rice. The NIB can only claim the money it spent on the processing of rice. We do not see which law in this country allows for our rice to be snatched from us through court orders," says Azariah Muriuki, a member of the society.
The farmers are also unable to acquire credit facilities from local commercial banks, which cite the impending court case, arguing that the ownership of the rice is in dispute.
"The government has blocked us, and we cannot get loans from banks. We have to struggle alone with no funds," says Karimi.
[c] 2000, InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)
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