WHEN GROWTH ISN’T A GOOD THING:Real Estate and Population Growth

Kenyans in our quest to be home owners  have thrown all caution to the wind and we are now selling our farms to fulfill  dreams of being multi billionaires.The real estate industry in Kenya has spawned off a list of noveau riche  Kenyans who are living large courtesy of the land deals they have been able to broker.If you doubt me just take a look at the number of real estate agents in Kenya’s growing towns from Nairobi to Kisumu all the way to the coast,land is changing hands and is appreciating in value like no other time in our country’s history.

We can partly lay the cause for the rise in land prices on the growing and better infrastructure in most  parts of the country and also the  burgeoning middle class that is seeking to be home owners.Banks have quickly cashed in on this  and most are offering mortgages and home development loans to their customers.The cement industry in the country is also growning and testament to this was when the President opened up  Simba cement factory in June of this year.The company joins the list of cement factories that have been seeing a growth in the building industry and are recording healthy bottom lines.

While lauding all these commercial activities that can be nothing but music to the ears of economists we must be cognisant of the fact that the boom will not last forever and there are ripple effects not at all positive for other areas of the economy like the farming  industry and the environment .Take the case of the four junctions development project whose owners sold off 200 acres of land that was previously a coffee farm to developers who are putting up plush and luxury apartments for sale.Much of the land under construction around the Thika road super highway and the Northern bypass that will link Nairobi to Thika passes through land that previously had coffee trees ,one of Kenya’s top foreign exchange earners.

In Nakuru and parts of Njoro the real estate bug has hit the residents of these growing town and real estate agens have sprung up everywhere selling land for development.The same can be said for other major towns in the country now growing rapidly. The growth curve  is projected to show a steady ascent as now governance has been devolutionized to the counties.With the battle for investment that is expected to set in among the counties, it is time we weighed the benefits of providing housing versus that of feeding a growing populace before the madness sets in.

Growing population
Just recently our MP’s were in Mombasa to discuss the runaway population growth we are now seeing as the last census of 2010 showed we are growing at the rate of a million annually.With not much focus being put on expanding public facilities like hospitals or even schools to accommodate this  growth i wonder how we will be able to feed and house 70 million Kenyans in 30 years time,seeing that our population right now is at 40 million.Maybe we will have to demolish structures to give way to farmland or lease out land from other countries to feed ourselves.

When the Mp;s held the meeting in Mombasa opinions were split as usual and an interesting article on what was discussed can be read here .However the opinions expressed were not surprising because they were representative of the view Kenyans have on the sensitive issue of population growth.The opinions though were a good indicator that we still have a long way to go in shedding our ignorance on issues affecting us.
In my opinion politicians are the wrong people to be discussing population growth because they are most likely to rely on everything except scientific data and cold hard facts.If we look at the way land has always been and continues to be an emotive issue,marry that with our ethnic bigotries and vested interests in the political circle you have disaster in the making.The reason for this is because decisions made politically will always be skewed towards selfish interests and not national interests.

We need to hear more about the effects of our growing population and appetite to be home owners from our scientists.The National Environmental Management Body (NEMA)should be focusing more on what our commercial and industrial activities are doing to the environment and what this will translate to in the future.Giving too much attention to the wars over whether waste baskets should be availed in public service vehicles and over the noise made by establishments like bars,churches,mosques though relevant is banal in the long term.Where are the great minds that have passed through the corridors of our universities,with great and fresh ideas on how we can manage the resources we have?

An asinine excuse for not discussing population growth is the excuse that our traditions prohibit us from doing so,but ask that in 20 years time and we will be reeling form the effects of the excess growth that was not reigned in in time.Much of the effects of this unchecked growth can be seen in our slums where competition for scarce resources in our cities and towns has seen unemployed youth turning to crime .

Looking for Solutions….
Maybe it is time the government gave farmers incentives to make them hold onto their farms instead of selling them off for quick money.Despite the back breaking work they do,farmers remain some of our most underrated public servants because feeding Kenyans to me is a form of public service.Too often you hear them complaining about price or lack  of farm inputs,lack of transport or poor infrastructure that would allow them  to take their produce to the market.These are things the government can provide solutions to if not ease the inconveniences involved .

Educating our citizens on the benefits of controlling population would go a long way towards demystifying the problems our country is now facing from the land battles that form a major part of the cases in our judiciary,to stemming the rising crime levels in our towns.All these because people are fighting for resources that are not there or aren’t enough to go round.

Our solutions are in our hands and in our heads if we put our collective effort together and there is no better example of this in the recent days than in the Kenya for Kenyans initiative that has raised more than half a billion shillings.This has set off a positive vibe of activism that is now seeing Kenyans discussing long term solutions that will see that this national embarassment never happens again.

We need to discuss what the effects of our economic activities will mean for future generations of Kenyans,we need to stop being the ostrich that buries its head in the sand hoping that our problems will magically find solutions

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