World Rainforest Movement

Kenya: Pan African Paper Mills spread sickness

Pulp and paper production in Kenya is presently dominated by one firm, Pan African Paper Mills (Panpaper), which is a joint venture between the Kenyan Government, the World Bank’s private investment arm International Finance Corporation (IFC), and Orient Paper Mills, part of the Birhla group from India. The pulp mill was established in 1974 and is based in Webuye town, with a population of some 60,000 people, on the banks of the Nzoia River which drains into Lake Victoria.

From the start, despite the potential environmental impacts concerning plantation establishment, liquid effluents, air emissions, sludge and solid waste disposal, the project did not benefit from a full environmental assessment. The IFC’s Environmental Review Summary simply stated that the project was designed to meet all applicable World Bank policies, and environmental, health and safety guidelines.

However, fears have proved right. A report from the local newspaper East African Standard denounced in 1999 that local residents had accused the paper mill of having turned a vast area of countryside into an environmental wasteland and of being an economic and social burden. Pollution of the Nzoia River on which residents depend for their water needs was so severe that bathing in the river had become a health hazard and animals drinking the water died. As a result of the chemicals produced during pulping, the area around the mill was enveloped in foul smelling air. Acid fumes and fly ash were resulting in the corrosion of the corrugated iron roofs of the houses in the vicinity of the mill. In addition, the mill’s solid waste, which was dumped on fields as manure, had led to a decline in local agricultural production.

At the time of the establishment of the mill, the Webuye area used to be a heavily forested region and formed part of the Kagamena Indigenous Forest. The mill’s demand for wood had turned the area barren and the company trucks now had to travel for over one hundred miles for raw material.

In 2003, the mill’s impacts continued unabated. People in Webuye complained that the smell emanating from the mill, mainly caustic, chlorine and sulphuric acid was hazardous. Webuye is now viewed as a “sick town”. Experts said purification process of the waste from this factory was inadequate and that effluent was emitted into the River Nzoia halfway treated. Such half-purified effluent could be catastrophic for the river or lake’s aquatic life as its high oxygen demand would suck the gas in the water bodies causing mass aquatic deaths.

The most recent event is the serious pollution of Lake Victoria, leading to investigations by the Ministry of Water. Effluent from factories including Panpaper are believed to have endangered aquatic life in the lake.

On the other hand, logging has been a major cause of destruction of the forests of Kenya, a country of environmental and ethnic diversity. The Ogiek People, inhabitant of the forest, have been suffering the loss of their homeland and livelihood, especially from the 90’s onwards. Panpaper is exempted from a government logging ban and is allowed to fell trees to produce pulp for paper, being one of the actors held responsible by the Ogiek (see WRM Bulletin Nº 45).

However, as recently as May of this year, a Director of PanPaper Mills, Harri P. Singhi, called on the government of Kenya to assist the company in solving the problem of shortage of wood supply. Would that mean more forests to be degazetted? This, as well as Singhi’s appeal to the government to assist the company to reduce its cost of production lowering the electricity tariff, make up the typical fiscal incentives which include tax exemptions, investment, grants, subsidies, on which the global pulp and paper industry develops. For its globalization it has counted also on direct or indirect subsidies coming from bilateral agencies, State investment, multilateral development banks, among other actors.

In the case of Kenya, the IFC had invested 86 million in the pulp, paper and packaging production. According to Singhi, Panpaper is working closely with IFC to expand the paper mills. The IFC Chief Special Operations officer, Mr. Erick Cruikshank, confirmed that the institution would continue working closely with the government as well as other industries including Panpaper Mills.

Meanwhile, the Ogiek lose their lands, local agriculture is endangered, deforestation increases, the environment is destroyed and the quality of life of local residents worsens. For the sake of job creation, says the official discourse. But the local labour component created in pulp and paper mills is minimal and in many cases restricted to casual labourers working under conditions which put their health at serious risk.

Article based on information from: “Kenya Is Exploring Alternative Sources of Energy”, Ooko Daniel, Hana, ; “Ministry to Probe Lake Pollution”, The East African Standard, ; “Wood and Wood Products and Pulp and Paper Products Industries”, Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry, Republic of Kenya, ; “Exporting Africa: technology, trade and industrialization in Sub-Saharan Africa”, The United Nations University, INTECH, ; “Kenya’s legal regime is mouthful but authorities won’t stop pollution”, Alphayo Otieno,
+won%E2%80%99t+stop+pollution&hl=es ; Environmental Defense,

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