This Is Africa…. At least when leasing land.

As Momentum is a social, for-profit organization, we are always looking for ways to generate income without affecting the smallholder farmers we work with – basically, our vision is to become financially sustainable through income-generating projects while offering loans that the farmers not only can afford to repay, but which also leave the farmers with the highest possible disposable income.

We have discussed many income-generating activities but keep coming back to one, rabbit farming. It is a fairly young industry in Kenya but it is growing fast due to a high demand for rabbit meat from the many Asian nationals both in Kenya and abroad. Due to the continuous breeding, rabbits give birth 5 – 6 times a year, meaning that if we start with 10 female rabbits, within one year we could have 500-600! These are staggering numbers! Furthermore, rabbits are fairly easy to manage, the cost of feeds is low and space requirements are limited. But the latter is exactly where we are running into unforeseen problems.

We live in a rural market close to a river and would like to lease at least 1 acre of land within a 10 minute walk from the office and with direct access to the river. There is plenty of fallow land around so finding land is not an issue – ownership, however is! The first plot of land we surveyed was a beautiful 5-acre piece, 5 minutes from the office, access to the river, located right next to a big road and already cleared for bushes and shrubs. After seeing it there was no doubt. This was the land! But something made me feel weary about the owner. He was a little too eager. So, I contacted the sub-chief, the village elder and the Momentum Farmer group leader from that village. They informed me that the man was not really the owner. When his father died many years back, he had left all of his land to his sons – three in total. He had divided the plot and given pieces to every son. But when he died, the person who claims to be the owner, sold all of his father’s cattle at a lower-than-market price without consulting with his brothers, and he spent all of the money on himself. This prompted his brothers to boycott him from owning any of the land their father had left.

When people inherit land in Kenya, the title deed is usually never altered. It is still in the dead person’s name and the new division is never documented. Therefore, anybody with the title deed can pretend to own the whole land. This is common knowledge here so when leasing land people prefer to deal with a plot with only one owner and involve the village elder and sub-chief for verification purposes. Which is what we will do as well!

By Lisa Wer Nielsen