The impact of the Corona Virus pandemic has been felt by most sectors of the economy. As the pandemic decimates the economy, declaring many people jobless because of downsizing of companies, a good number of youth staying close to the lower course of River Nzoia have resolved to sand mining to fend for themselves and their families.
This location of River Nzoia, which has for a long time been known to harbour different fish species including Odhadho (petrocephalus), Seu (Bagras docmac), Sire (bagrus docmac) and Ningu (gregoris labeo), is now an ideal sand harvesting location owing to the fact that these fish species have been extinct for a while in this specific area.
George Otieno, one of the area residents who has been in the sand mining business for close to two years, says that having sand deposits on the beds of the river gives hope to many people. The absence of fish is what necessitated them to find an alternative means of earning a living. According to him, they often sell the sand to middlemen who are always at the river banks sourcing for it. The middlemen then take it to different towns to sell and get other orders.
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Like any other business, this too is marred with challenges from health risks to economic issues. The main challenge they face is in the process. They have no special equipment for this exercise and in most cases, the dive into the river naked not knowing the health hazards they are diving into.
“A boat is operated by two people, one dives in with a pale or a container that he uses to scoop the sand in the river bed then floats back to the surface as the other person pulls sand filled container into the boat,” he explains.
This process is done severally until the canoe is filled to capacity after which it is paddled to the river bank for emptying. Otieno notes that a 12 tonne lorry requires four full canoes to be filled and middlemen buy it at 51$. The proceeds from the sand mining are shared amongst all miners on location at the end of the day.
George is just one in hundreds of locals who have resorted to sand mining to supplement their income. In spite of the challenges they face, they hope to continue engaging in the economic activity and are now urging both the national and county governments of Kenya to provide them with diving facilities and equipment that would come in handy, not only during their normal mining operations, but also in the event of accidents such as drowning.