In Summary
  • Farmers say they are victims of massive contamination, accuse Nairobi firms of releasing effluent

  • Farmers using the ‘toxic’ commodity from River Athi to irrigate their farms say they usually feel bad about it, but for them it’s a lesser evil compared to stealing.

  • If the pollution continues, my family and many others will be impacted negatively not only by the water, but by food crops.

  • The chemicals released into the water will definitely end up in the soil and eventually into the vegetables or fruits.

When 55-year-old Patrick Luka relocated to Katangi from Kathiani 10 years ago, he had his eyes set on a gem: Athi River.

The father of four is, however, scared that very soon the precious commodity, which made him to leave his ancestral home, may no longer be suitable for him and his family.

Mr Luka is a farmer in Katangi ward, Yatta constituency. Being one of the driest regions in Machakos County, he has been irrigating his farm using water from Kenya’s second longest river.

CRYSTAL CLEAR

For the time he has been a farmer in the area, Athi River has been the his greatest resource. He cultivates tomatoes, kales, spinach and maize, among other crops.

But he is disappointed that the river gradually changed right before his eyes. “Initially, the water used to be crystal clear, but I have seen it change between 2009 and 2019; it no longer is a resource but a liability,” he said during an interview.

In his farming life stretching from 1987, this is the worst moment for him. “There is no need of having a big river nearby if it does not help us. Some years back, the water used to be very clean but when companies started sprouting up in Nairobi, the water started getting dirty,” Mr Luka said.

The river has been polluted by sewage and chemical effluent upstream and the future does not look alluring anymore.

Mr Luka’s son, Peter Mulwa, said they are ‘licensed’ to use the water despite the heavy pollution.

According to the Water Act 2016, users of water in rivers are supposed to get permits from the Water Resources Authority (WRA).

The law further states: “All income through water permits, abstraction and water user fees shall be entirely used for the conservation and management of water resources.”

As such, users of Athi River water wonder why the government has failed to keep its part of the bargain.

“Sometimes, once you use it (Athi water) to irrigate your farm, the crops dry up. The problem with the water is that companies and institutions upstream release chemical and sewage effluents into the river. That is why the water is green,” Mr Luka said.

WILTING AND ROTTING

He said the dirty water comes with some crop diseases, which affect growth of vegetables and maize.

Some of the vegetables the Nation team saw were either wilting or rotting. “Whenever the effluent is released, fish in the water die and the smell is very bad. Sometimes the water flows with sisal threads or plastics. When we pump it in that condition, we are usually aware that it will definitely destroy our crops,” he said.

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