Why monkeys are drivers of rural poverty in Murang’a

By Gitahi Ngunyi

The move by Murang’a County Government to get rid of monkeys in the county has elicited robust debate on the role of county government in the management of man-wildlife conflict.

Most of the discussions in vernacular stations and social media platform have zeroed on the amounts of money that the county has allocated for the project. Figures as high as Sh47 million have been thrown around probably to portray the county government as wasteful.

But to focus on the cost is to miss the big picture. In any case I have seen documents from the county showing that the government will only spend Sh3 million. These funds, the planning documents show, will go to funding local polytechnics to build the traps that will be used to trap the monkeys.

The bigger concern that most discussants have missed is the contribution of monkeys to rural poverty and food scarcity in Murang’a.

Having grown up in Murang’a, I have a first hand experience on the ravages of the monkeys on the rural economies.

I saw how my parents and my siblings worked long hours to keep monkeys from their crops wasting valuable time that would have been used to engage in other productive engagement.

For to be a peasant farmer in Murang’a is to enter into a fight with the monkeys for survival. As the farmer plants maize or beans, the monkeys follow from a safe distance digging and eating up the seeds. In all planting seasons, it was and is still the practise for my parents to plant the same field twice or thrice no matter how well they tried to keep the monkeys from the newly planted fields.

As soon the germinating seeds sprouted, the monkeys would be the first in the field, uprooting the young plants and eating up the succulent roots and tender leaves.
When the beans flowered, the monkeys would pluck the flowers and eat them up. For the plants whose flowers survived, the baby beans would be the next target for the monkeys. For maize, baby corn would be eaten up as they appeared on the plants.

In short, the fights between man and beast are sustained through out the life of the crop. And in all cases, man losses the war. Statistics on the impact of monkeys on farmers incomes are not available. But the experience from my father’s farm in Gaturi ward is that we lose about half of the crops to monkeys.

In short, besides poor prices for farmers, monkeys are a major driver for rural poverty in Murang’a. This is also true in other counties with huge populations of monkeys.
But the most disturbing fact about this conflict is the level of non-interest by government agencies to deal with the monkeys nightmare.

On several occasions, farmers from my village have asked Kenya Wildlife Service officers in the county to remove the monkeys from their farms. But the government agency have never had time to deal with the problem.

This is in spite of the fact that if the farmers losses were computed over the last 50 years, those losses would go up to hundreds of billions.

Discussions on possible compensation for destroyed crops have been brushed aside as fast they were introduced by the farmers. In short, the attitude from KWS has been an indirect communication to farmers to the effect that “you are on your own.”

This is why the initiative by Mwangi wa Iria’s government deserves commendation. It deserves applause because it is the first time a government is getting directly involved in getting rid of one of the biggest causes of rural poverty.

In any case, someone had to act to save the long suffering farmers of Murang’a.

This post was first published as a commentary in People Daily on February 22, 2018.

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