The decision by the government through the Ministry of Environment to take 6,165 acres of the Macalder area and turn it into a public forest has been met with criticism by Migori County residents.
The area has for decades been used by local artisanal miners and small mining companies to extract gold, making it a major source of income in the region.
In a special Gazette notice, the government gazetted the region as a forest area under the provision of the Forest Conservation and Management Act.
During the gazettement process, residents of Migori County were not advised on the future of their mines that are underground in the Macalder area, part Migori Gold Belt.
“An area of land approximately 2494.95 hectares (6165.02 Acres), situated Approximately 25 km northwest of Migori Township, Migori County the boundaries of which are more particularly delineated, edged green, on Boundary Plan No. 175/517 which is signed and sealed with a seal of Survey of Kenya, and deposited at the Survey Records Office, Survey of Kenya, Nairobi and a copy of which may be inspected at the office of the County Forest Conservator, Migori County and Kenya Forest Service Headquarters, Nairobi,” the Gazette notice read in part.
The Macalder Forest is home to one of the largest gold deposits in the country as the Migori Gold Belt transverses the vast land.
The Migori Gold Belt is situated 16 kilometres away from the Kenya/Tanzania border in Sirare and runs parallel with the border making the gold deposits majorly in Kenyan soil.
While thousands of Migori residents depend on small-scale gold mining from Macalder Forest for survival, there are also companies that mine on a large scale.
The gold is sold to brokers in Migori Town who then sell it abroad mostly in Asia and the Middle East.
Residents from Migori County reveal that on average, a day working in the gold mines fetches Ksh3,000.
The community is now worried that should the forest be fenced off by the government, they would lose their main source of livelihood.
Apart from gold mining, the residents partake in sugar cane farming which is struggling due to the unreliability of government-run Sony Sugar Company.