KENYA: When elephants and avocados fight for the Rift Valley

In the Rift Valley in southwest Kenya, environmental groups and Maasai denounce the installation of a farm in the field of elephants. According to the latter, the location of the KiliAvo farm, a 72-hectare avocado monoculture plantation not far from Amboseli National Park, poses a threat to the pachyderms. “There are two farms here, and both are in the middle of a wildlife habitat. We have evidence that some of these areas were used by elephants as maternity homes. They come out of the park to give birth and then go back in when the calf is strong enough to walk, ”says Daniel Ole Sambu, member of the NGO’s Big Life Foundation.

In September 2020, pressure from both NGOs and local residents who benefit from elephant tourism caused the National Environmental Management Agency (Nema) to order KiliAvo to cease operations while it was reviewing the situation. The company has challenged this decision in the Kenyan environmental court, where the case is currently being heard. And while the court ruling is pending, KiliAvo will continue to operate on site.

Overuse of the water table

The KiliAvo farm, located at the foot of Kilimanjaro, irrigates its almost 2,000 avocado plants by pumping water from the water table. “We have two boreholes. With the tanks we can water the plantation. There has always been water here since I was born. People say that if we continue drilling in the area there will be no more water, but that’s a lie, ”denies Jeremiah Shuaka Saalash, one of the owners of KiliAvo. However, conservationists argue that it takes at least a thousand liters of water to produce a single kilo of avocados. “If we let them continue, we will lose control. Others will come and farm and we will lose our cattle and our Maasai way of life. Agriculture is not sustainable here. The area is semi-arid and can only be used for wildlife and farm animals, ”says Samuel Kaanki, President of Aloca, an association of Maasai landowners in the Amboseli Reserve.

Also read: MALI: State approves project to expand Gourma Elephant Reserve

Avocado has become very profitable since the explosion in European demand fueled by vegetarian diets. Kenya’s avocado exports, already Europe’s sixth largest supplier, rose 33% to $ 127 million in October 2020, according to the country’s Fresh Produce Exporters Association. Despite this economic breakthrough, the avocado sector lags far behind tourism, which grossed $ 1.6 billion in 2019.

Boris Ngounou

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