Poverty is a deep rooted challenge in the county whereby 66%12 of the residents are poor. The county contributes 1.26% to national poverty. Further, the county is not self sufficient in food. The worst hit are the aged, disabled, small holders with less than 0.05 ha, landless, squatters, children and female headed households.
Distribution of poverty in the county is biased towards the marginal farming areas of Tausa, Mwatate and Voi. 95.13 percent of income for most households in the county is derived from agriculture. Income from rural self employment only accounts for 0.5 % of total income to Taita Taveta households.
Wundanyi, Taveta, Mwatate and Voi townships/ areas are high agricultural potential areas but especially Wundanyi and Taveta. The upper zones of Wundanyi experience acute food deficit due to high soil erosion levels, high farm input costs and inability to access credit facilities.
The residents of Taita Taveta County therefore grow high value horticultural crops for sale in Mombasa. However, these farmers deal with middlemen instead of selling their produce directly at wholesale market in Kongowea14 and are thus vulnerable to manipulation since they get prices significantly lower than Mombasa prices.
In Mwatate the productive land is limited and the people cannot afford the type of irrigative infrastructure required. Tausa and Mwambirwa have poor rainfall and a poor road network hence low farm production. Further, Mwambirwa has the biggest forest (Mbololo) where streams and springs emanate from.
Agriculture in Taita Taveta County is mainly hampered by lack of sufficient land to farm. This is due to rampant land grabbing by powerful individuals in the Moi and Kenyatta governments. The large scale farmers who are wealthy Kenyans have continued grabbing land in this county. The land owned by the Kenyatta family alone in Taita Taveta is 74,000 acres. This is not to mention 50,000 acres currently under Mrs Beth Mugo, Minister for Public Health and niece of the first President. Former Assistant Minister for Roads and Public Works Basil Criticos who has been accused as one of the land grabbers in Taita Taveta was sacked by Moi. Mr Criticos had complained about the squatters who occupied his land. Several hundred families had moved on to his farm and a neighboring farm, beaten up security personnel, and burnt sisal crops.
Other agricultural land use practices in Taita Taveta include sisal farming where we have huge tracts of land under sisal farms. The three operating sisal estates of the district are the Teita Sisal Estate, Voi Sisal Estate and Taveta Sisal Estate. Another land use area in the county is ranching where cattle are kept in over 25 ranches in the county.
The total labour force in the county increased from 142,269 in 1999 to about 171, 250 in 201015 with the greater part being women. The county has a high age dependency ratio of 100:90 impacting negatively on savings and investments.
There is however, rampant unemployment among the youth mainly due to attitude. The sisal estates do provide job opportunities but the youth do not find them appealing. This therefore forces the sisal plantations management to import labour from outside the county with the luo and kamba ethnic groups being a majority.
Taita Taveta county has 3 District Hospitals, 1 Sub-District Hospitals, 47 Dispensaries, 9 HeaIth Centers, 11 Medical Clinics, no Nursing Homes, no Maternity Homes. Notable hospitals include Moi District Hospital in Voi, Wesu and Taveta District Hospitals. There is low access to health services in the county as most of the population lives over 10kms to the nearest health facility.
Shortage of drugs, corruption, lack of diagnostics facilities such as X-Ray machines and high cost of healthcare are barriers to improvement of the health sector. The doctor to patient ratio in the county stands at 1:41,000 while infant mortality rates and the Under 5 mortality rates stand at 14/1000 and 93/1000 respectively. The most prevalent diseases include malaria, upper respiratory transmitted infections, diarrhea and HIV/AIDS (14.3%).
HIV/AIDS prevalence is a key challenge as it threatens development initiatives in the county. Bed occupancy from AIDS related illnesses stands at 60% in Voi, 50% in Wesu and 55% in Taveta. Other crucial health indicators include crude birth rate of 17/1000, crude death rate of 6.9/1000, life expectancy of 57.5 years and a total fertility rate of 6.
The county has 206 primary schools and 53 secondary schools currently. The Primary school enrollment stands at 74,616 with a teacher to pupil ratio of 1:40. The secondary school enrollment stands at 14,132 with a teacher to pupil ratio of 1:25 in public schools.16 There are over 25 tertiary institutions in the county with JKUAT being the latest entrant.
The enrollment rate for boys and girls in the county stands at 88% and 88.4% respectively. Boys in the county have a higher dropout rate than girls at 2.6% and 1.2% respectively. The threats to learning in the county include acute water shortages as well as food shortage due to crop failure in certain areas such as Mwakitau, Mwachabo and Mwatate locations, Kishusho, Paranga, Mwaroko, parts of Mbale, lower saghalla, Kasighau, voi, Chumvini et cetera. Further, Human-wildlife conflict in Kasighau, Ghazi, Mwakitau and Challa could also adversely affect learning.
The county has some of the worst roads in the country with only 151.8km being bitumen surface (tarmac). About 138.2km is gravel surface while 663km is earth surface17. Poor roads are responsible for underdevelopment in the county as this hampers accessibility to markets and water sources.
The Arid Lands Resource Management Project in collaboration with World Food Program and World Vision have initiated several road projects in the county as part of a food security project in the county. These are as follows: Lukasinyi Gora Rehabilitation, Mlalenyi Kidai Road Rehabilitation, Mwambingu Feeder Road Rehabilitation, Mwangarana mwakiki, Kunde, Kirutai Road Rehabilitation, Kighononyi Shelemba Road Rehabilitation, Darajani Rahai Road Rehabilitation.
The County is divided into 3 different topographical zones. These are the upper zone, the lower zone and the volcanic foothills.18 The upper zone is suitable for horticultural farming.
Precious gems and stones are found in the lower plains while the volcanic foothills covering Taveta have potential for underground water and springs from Taita hills and Mt Kilimanjaro.
The major Rivers in the County are Tsavo, voi and Lumi. The small springs and streams in the County include Njuguini, Sanite, Njokubwa Kitobo, maji Wadeni, Humas springs and Lemanya springs. Further, the County has 2 lakes Jipe and Challa. Lake Challa is volcanic with little economic exploitation. On the other hand, Lake Jipe is exploited through small scale irrigation and fishing.
The county is generally dry except for high catchment areas in the hills. This is due to the effect of the South-Easterly winds which influence the climate of the county. The hilly areas have ideal conditions for condensation of moisture which results to relief rainfall. The county has 2 rain seasons with the long rains between March and May and the Short rains between November and December. Distribution of rainfall is uneven where the highlands are cooler and experience higher rainfall than the lowlands, hence, has potential for horticultural crops, maize and beans.
The lowlands are Arid and Semi Arid and thus suitable for crops with a short maturity such as Sorghum, cowpeas, green grams, cashew nuts, sunflower, millet and also ideal for ranching and sisal growing.
The county usually experiences acute food shortages due to crop failure and poor rainfall. The Food for asset program by the Government has however impacted positively on food production in the county. Water projects such as the kitobo water and project and the Mwakitau borehole in Mwatate play a crucial role in ensuring food security of the county. The major sources of food security in the county include livestock keeping and production, milk production, crop production such as maize as well as horticultural farming (fruits).
Initiatives by the government and WFP as well as World Vision that are improving the food security status in the county are as follows: Njoro Kubwa irrigation canal, Tuhire chala irrigation canal, Madulu springs, Ngaa canal, Grodan irrigation canal.
There are 5 Commercial Banks, 8 Micro-finance Institutions and 5 Village Banks in Taita Taveta County. Most of the trading activities is done by middlemen and small scale traders in the most populous townships of Voi, Mwatate, Wundanyi and Taveta. Voi is strategically located along the Nairobi-Mombasa highway giving a myriad of opportunities for entrepreneurs while Taveta attracts imports and exports from the neighboring republic of Tanzania through the famous Kongowea market. The major problem with the farmers is that they use middlemen instead of selling their produce wholesale at kongowea market thus getting far lower prices for produce than they would have gotten in Mombasa which is a major consumer of Taita County products.
62% of Taita Taveta County is under the Tsavo East and West National parks. The wildlife in these has formed a major source of tourist attraction. Further, The Taita Hills forest hold a unique biodiversity with 13 taxa of plants and 9 taxa of animals found only in the Taita Hills and nowhere else in the world. In addition 22 plant species found in the Taita Hills forests are typical of the Eastern arc forests. The next being in eastern Tanzania. Some of the endemic African violet – Saintpaulia teitens is among others, Within these beautiful indigenous forests, bubble pure clean water to the lowland areas to cater for both human agricultural activities and wildlife in the Taita game sanctuary and Aruba dam in Tsavo East. Taita county is endowed with immense wildlife resources but poor infrastructure has hindered growth travel advisories notwithstanding.
Taita Taveta region carries a big chunk of key minerals found in Kenya. Saphires, tanzanites, iron ore and manganese are found in commercially viable quantities in Taita Taveta and these have the potential to completely transform the county’s economy. Some of the gemstones found in the area include Tsavorite, red and green garnets, ruby, blue sapphire, pink sapphire, green tourmalines, yellow tourmalines, rhodolites and kyanites.
According to geological experts, Tsavorite and ruby are highly sought after globally, with Taita Taveta being the main source of the minerals worldwide. Geological surveys indicate that substantial quantities of mineral deposits are yet to be fully explored and developed due to financial and technical constraints.
Limited knowledge in key areas such as mineral prospecting, identification of gemstones, cutting and polishing, safety requirements, managing personal finances earned from mining are the main challenges facing the small scale mining groups in the area. Taita Taveta County is ranked among the poorest counties in the nation but it has the potential to be among the top three. The population in the County as per the 2009 census stands at 283,512 with a majority of the people still living below the poverty line. Poverty levels vary from division to division, with the lower plain areas where the precious stones are ironically found. It is estimated that 64% or 153,000 people in the county get less than a dollar a day.
Agro-minerals such as limestone and phosphate rocks are also found in Taita Taveta. Industrial minerals such as Iron Ore are also found in the area and are currently mined at Kishushe by a large-scale mining company. The gemstone industry is most dominant in the area with most mining fields run by small scale mining groups. The mining industry has been dominated by men for many years. An upsurge in mineral exploration backed by aggressive marketing campaign by local leaders has seen a number of women venture into the mining sector.
Taita Women Mining Group, led by a Mrs Edith Lewela, ventured into mining. The group of 20 women – most of them small-scale miners – ventured into mining after having completed a geology course at the JKUAT Taita Taveta branch where they acquired some mining skills. Mining in Taita is also hampered by the problem of managing community expectations as differences over land use abound. Many locals are squatters and decry the dominance of the mining sector by people from outside the region. For example, in Kasigau location, there has been a row between a private company mining ruby at the area with the locals who are demanding to get a certain percentage from the sales earned from the natural resource in order to improve their social amenities and infrastructure.