Dominion Farms Limited

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A combine harvests rice at Dominion Farms while a crop dusting plane sprays pesticides. February 22, 2012.

Dominion Farms Limited is an Oklahoma-based corporation operating a large farm in western Kenya.

As of February 2012, Dominion produces rice, bananas, and tilapia sold locally within Kenya.[1] The farm is also beginning to expand into soybeans and preparing to begin operations in Nigeria. The Kenya operation is located in the ecologically sensitive and important Yala Swamp, situated between Bondo and Siaya districts. The land was leased to Dominion for 25 years with the possibility of extension.[2] Dominion began clearing and reclaiming the swamp in 2003. Their rice mill began operation in 2006. The farm's rice was first sold in 2007.[3]

President Calvin Burgeess claims, "Our target market is Kenya and our prices are deliberately lower. We are trying to reach to the majority of Kenyans who are in the low income bracket," says Mr Burges. "For us at Dominion Farms, money is not the primary goal. The primary concern is providing food security for the growing population".[3] However, a 2009 Business Week article says that "Once Dominion is fully in gear, it plans to sell rice to African governments and export farm-raised fish to Europe."[4]

Dominion in Kenya


By 2009, the farm had leased 17,000 acres for 25 years, with an option to renew the lease for 20 years. It pays $140,000 per year in rent, or just over US$8 per acre. Some also accuse the company of bribing the Siaya County Council with $100,000 in 2007 and the Lake Basin Development Authority with $120,000 in 2003. The money disappeared in both cases. The company admits to making the payments but does not see them as bribes.[4]

In 2011, President Calvin Burgess said that the company has "17,050 acres of property and we have to date developed approximately 5,000 of that but we want to reclaim every bit of it. The water table is falling and soon we can get more equipment on the land. We hope that with all factors holding constant, the rest of the reclamation will be complete in the next two years."[3]

However, several accounts note that the initial lease was not for the full 17,000 acres of Yala Swamp. One source says that Dominion leased 2,300 hectares (5680 acres) for €12,000 a year (about US$21,600) in 2004.[5] At that rate, the amount paid per year was €5.22 per hectare (approximately US$3.80 per acre). The area represents the area that had been previously reclaimed from the swamp by the Kenyan government. According to the group Friends of Yala Swamp:[6]

"Dominion Farms Ltd, a subsidiary of Dominion Group of Companies based in Edmond Oklahoma USA, moved into the Yala swamp in 2003 through an arrangement with the Lake Basin Development Authority (LBDA). The initial proposal was that Dominion would engage in rice production, in part of the swamp known as Area I, covering about 2,300 ha. This land portion had been reclaimed before 1970, and previously used by LBDA for agricultural activity, mainly to produce cereals, pulses and horticultural crops. An environmental impact assessment (EIA) was commissioned for large-scale rice production, for which a license was issued in 2004, specifically for the rice irrigation. Instead of the originally intended rice cultivation in the 2,300ha once owned by the LBDA, Dominion Farms Ltd embarked on other additional agricultural and development activities in the swamp that went beyond the intended rice cultivation to include construction of irrigation dykes and weirs, water-drilling, construction of airstrip, road construction etc.
"Dominion further proposed to undertake a number of new development projects within the Yala Swamp, under what is now called “an integrated project”. For this purpose it proposed that part of 9,200 ha be reclaimed from swamp area. This has left only 6,000 ha (35%) of current wetland to act as buffer zone. The company was asked by NEMA to undertake new EIA to incorporate all current and proposed projects. This report was submitted to NEMA in October 2005. But despite the fact that a license was yet to be issued for the activities, Dominion Farms Ltd embarked on the implementation of their proposed development activities. The revelation of the new activities undertaken by Dominion Farms Ltd elicited mixed reactions from a number of stakeholders voicing various concerns ranging from issues of sustainable development, environment and livelihoods."

Farming Operation

A film of agrochemicals in the water at Dominion Farms. February 22, 2012.

Dominion describes its agricultural model as follows:

"Today Dominion Farms is a celebrated example of technology-based, irrigated agriculture in western Kenya. It is a model for long-range planners who seek to develop the water resources and expand the land under cultivation that is needed to sustain the fast-growing Kenyan population. It also illustrates the synergies of using agricultural by-products to lower operating costs through reduced reliance on the use of chemicals and imported fuels."[7]

Rice Production

Dominion's operations are in one of Kenya's semi-arid areas, but it takes advantage of the water from the Yala River to provide the heavy amount of irrigation required to grow rice.

Rice growing at Dominion Farms. February 22, 2012.

To grow their rice, Dominion first tills the fields with a tractor to prepare for planting. The rice is direct seeded by a tractor (as opposed to traditional rice growing, in which rice is first planted in a seedbed and then transplanted after it begins to grow) and then the field is immediately flooded. After four to five days, the field is drained and the rice remains dry during a one month "hardening off" period. Employees weed rice fields by hand (although herbicide is also used) and fill in any gaps where rice did not germinate by transplanting rice seedlings. After one month, they flood the field once again and wait for the rice to mature after a total of 120 days. The rice is harvested by a combine. Sometimes after a field is harvested, the rice plants are left to produce a second crop, and sometimes the rice plants are tilled under so the field can be planted again. Fields may lay fallow after harvesting. Each field produces two to three crops per year, and Dominion is continually harvesting throughout the year in order to ensure that its mill always has rice to process.[1] Rice fields are 40 to 70 acres each, and about 10 fields might be harvested at any given time.

Rice mill at Dominion Farms. February 22, 2012.

As the combine harvests, another large piece of equipment removes the rice and brings it to the mill, allowing the combine to continually harvest without stopping. At the mill, the rice is first dried, then it is processed. The mill first removes large and small impurities in the rice, and Dominion sells the small impurities as chicken feed. The husks are removed and used as mulch on Dominion's banana trees. The mill sorts out stones from the rice, and removes the bran and the germ, which are each sold as animal feed. The remaining white rice is polished, graded, and bagged.[1] They are sold under the brand name "Prime Harvest." As of 2011, the processing plant had the capacity to process 10,000 tonnes of rice per day. At the time, they produced 3,500-4000 tonnes per year and hoped to double it by the end of 2012. When the entire 17,050 acres is in full production, they hope to produce 10,000-12,000 tons of rice per year.[3]

Because the rice is grown as a monoculture over a large area and because it is grown season after season without any crop rotation, Dominion must use large amounts of chemical fertilizer and pesticides. Dominion grows two rice varieties, referred to as 103 and 107, which provide high yields and mature quickly. High yielding lowland rice varieties tend to be dwarf varieties that are highly responsive to fertilizer, allowing them to grow lots of grain without causing the plant to topple over. Because these high yielding varieties are short, weeds must be controlled so they do not compete with the rice for sun. Dominion uses both a pre-emergent and a post-emergent herbicide, as well as hand weeding and flooding fields to control weeds.

Tilapia Production

Tilapia pond at Dominion Farms. February 22, 2012.

Another major product of the farm is tilapia, both full-sized fish and fingerlings. As of 2011, they were the main contract supplier for the Kenyan government's ESP programme, providing it with two million fingerlings per month. At the time the farm operated eight trial fish ponds each with the capacity of holding 80,000 fish and planned to set up tens of ponds in a massive fish cropping programme to cover 160 acres of land. At that point, they were breeding Nile Perch and cat fish on a trial basis, in addition to tilapia. The farm's tilapia sold locally for 200 Kenyan shillings per kg (about US$2.40).[3]

When farming tilapia, farmers can increase production by only raising male fish. This is because females put much of their energy into breeding instead of weight gain. To ensure all of the fish are male, Dominion treats young fish with a hormone for a month, turning all of the females to males.[1]

Other Minor Products

In addition to rice and tilapia, Dominion also produces bananas. As of February 2012, it had just begun to produce and process soybeans in newly reclaimed land to see whether the crop might be a viable product to produce going forward.[1] A 2011 article stated "Dominion Farms is venturing into the large scale production of Soya beans. The soya beans are a chief ingredient in the production of fish, chicken and dog feeds which the farm produces."[3]

As of 2011, the farm also had a herd of 100 heifers "in a test programme for dairy and beef production and hopes to build a herd of 600 cattle for milk and beef production in the next two years. Plans are also under way to roll out a brand of dog feed and a porridge mix to retail under the same name."[3]

Two last ventures are a biogas digester and a hydro-power production plant. "The energy generated from the facilities will complement the propane that is usually used to run the heavy machinery at the farm mills. In addition to this, surplus energy will be sold to the national grid and distributed to the locals."[3]

Land Reclamation

Before farming can begin on the land owned by Dominion, the natural swamp must be "reclaimed." To do this, Dominion uses bulldozers and land planes to clear the land and then performs primary and secondary tillage using disc plows or serrated disc plows. To remove natural vegetation, Dominion burns it.

According to Burgess in 2011:

"Our initial step was to stop the flow of water to the swamp and we built 12km of dykes that ran from the dam down to Lake Namboyo and basically relocate the river. We split it and sent part of it into Lake Kanyaboli and part of it to Lake Namboyo".
"This stopped the water from flowing into the swamp and the next step for Mr Burges and his team was to drain the water.
"For the last three years we have been draining it to lower the water table and as this goes down we start developing the land". The process is challenging and though heavily mechanised, relies on the course of nature and cannot be rushed.
"The land dries from the top down and you have to wait for it to dry substantially before you can use any equipment on it which makes the process painstakingly slow. In addition to this, rain water reverses the drainage process and takes you back to the beginning."[3]

Relationship with Bordering Communities

According to Dominion

Dominion touts itself as Kenya's hope for economic growth, jobs, and development:[8]

"The business of Kenya is agriculture – the principal source of income for 75% of the nation’s population. Yet agriculture accounts for only 25% of the Gross Domestic Product. As a result, 75% of Kenyans depend on a technically inefficient industry whose average labor input is three times greater than its output. Due to its dominance, any change in the agricultural sector translates to changes in the entire economy. Efforts to grow the economy and reduce poverty must begin with agriculture.
"For the majority of Kenyans, farming exists mainly for subsistence. The level and scale of crop production is geared towards satisfying household requirements.
"When Calvin Burgess first visited the Yala Swamp in 2002, it was accessible only via all-terrain vehicle. As there was no commerce in the area, neither were there jobs, currency in circulation nor hope for improvement. But the residents were determined to break out of the cycle of poverty associated with their tiny acreages and limited access to markets. Dominion’s local payroll has done wonders for the health, wealth and attitude of hundreds of employees and thousands who benefit indirectly from the circulation of hard currency. And the farm has provided an example for smaller farmers to emulate in order to render their operations more productive and profitable.
"The area around the farm allows for an ideal farming environment. Water is plentiful, the climate is cool and the fields produce at least two crops per annum. Add the components of cost-effective labor and regional food deficiencies and the area offers an exceptional farming scenario. The impact of two crops per annum cannot be overstated in a large-scale application. It is the financial equivalent of doubling the size of an efficient commercial farm at zero added cost. For a nation that imports more than 200,000 tons of rice annually from India, Pakistan and Southeast Asia, the continuous planting and harvesting of rice on a commercial scale is a welcome activity."

According to the Locals

Dilapidated housing of rural Kenyans living next to Dominion Farms in Bondo District, Kenya. February 22, 2012.

Dominion's immediate neighbors, shown in photos to the left and right, are not among the "hundreds of employees and thousands who benefit indirectly" from the "wonders" Dominion has done for their "health, wealth and attitude." Their homes are small and sometimes in poor condition, and while some have electricity, most lack running water. These communities traditionally relied on the Yala River and Yala Swamp as their water sources. Because Dominion has redirected the Yala River through its weir to use it in irrigating rice paddies and in their tilapia ponds, the company has directed some of the water to areas outside of its gates. Here, locals come to gather water and carry it back to their homes.

Mud hut with thatched roof just outside of Dominion Farms in Siaya District, Kenya. February 22, 2012.

Despite its large size, Dominion is not a very large employer as most of its operations (planting, harvesting, milling) are mechanized. Among its approximately 400 employees are some locals who are employed in weeding, transplanting rice, and scaring birds by shaking containers for of rocks. Many of the more skilled jobs are given to college educated Kenyans who come from outside the local area. Dominion also subcontracts with a security company that employs 100 people as security personnel. Nearby farms of local inhabitants are typically between two and five acres, with large families working on them and occasionally a few hired farmworkers as well. Thus, the land area of Dominion Farms provides fewer jobs than an equivalent amount of land in this area that is devoted to small family farms.[1]

Additionally, when the land occupied by Dominion Farms was natural swampland, it was utilized by locals as a place to gather fuel, wild foods, animal fodder, and materials for building and handicrafts. The swamp also provided ecosystem services to the area as a filter for sediment and pollutants and a refuge for fish species that have long ago disappeared from Lake Victoria. Today, instead of living alongside a swamp that filters out biocides, local communities are exposed to drift and water contamination from frequent pesticide spraying by the crop dusting planes and other machines over Dominion's large area.[1]

A 2009 Business Week article provides a particularly damning assessment of Dominion's impact on locals.[4] A major complaint was property loss and destruction of property. For example:

"Charles Onyango Apiyo, 39, raises cattle in Siaya. A year ago, he says, 10 of his cows wandered onto Dominion property. The entire herd of 150 was confiscated by company employees and taken to a police station. The cattle were held for almost two weeks, during which time 20 died, Apiyo says. More perished from dehydration on the trek back to his land. In an interview on the side of a dusty road, he says he has received nothing for his losses."
"Before the company's arrival, tens of thousands of farming and herding families used parts of the Yala wetlands now occupied by Dominion. Many of these residents have lost access to land they considered theirs. As a legal matter, land rights were held by the various government bodies that leased tracts to Dominion, according to the Lands Ministry. Scores of homes where Dominion now operates were relocated to make way for a dam and reservoir the company built. Burgess says about 50 families were compensated as a result. Chris Owalla, a local community organizer, estimates that 300 families were displaced.

Burgess says owners were paid amounts roughly double the worth of their properties. Residents say the compensation—typically 4,600 Kenyan shillings, or about $60 per home—was inadequate."

Locals were also disappointed in the lack of jobs provided and the low pay for workers:

"Burgess says Dominion employs 700 local people in various capacities. But villagers dispute this. In 2003 the company hired some 200 people to pull weeds and chase away birds, according to Owalla. As the Dominion farm became more mechanized, jobs dwindled, the activist and local residents say.
"During a reporter's visit to the area over three days, some 40 women were observed working at any one time in the Dominion rice paddies. Three men operated tractor equipment along the road. Several of the women said in interviews that they earn less than 200 shillings a day, the equivalent of $3. They declined to give their names for fear of losing their jobs."[4]
"During severe rains in 2007, Odindo says most of his crops were destroyed by flooding he blames on a nearby dam that Dominion built. He holds up worn photos showing his farm almost totally submerged. "We have never seen that kind of flooding before," he says. More than 1,000 homes were damaged, and some were swept completely away, he adds.
"Jackson Oware, who lives nearby, has placed small markers where five of his mud huts stood before the flooding destroyed them. "We are not sure when to replant because it could all be washed away again," Oware says.
"Burgess says the ferocity of the storm caused the damage. "We were in no way responsible for this flooding," he adds. "These people just want someone to blame.""[4]

Burgess dismisses locals' claims to the land and disparages their farms and culture:

"I disagree when people say, 'Oh, you have to preserve the local culture,'" he says. "If you preserve it, people will starve, and you won't have a culture to preserve." He plays down the idea that land formerly used for subsistence agriculture has now been monopolized by Dominion. Farms that surround his company's property are little more than "unproductive gardens," he says. Most of the area his company now cultivates simply wasn't being used before, he says. "No one was there."[4]

Pollution was another complaint.

"Since Dominion's arrival, [residents] say, drinking water from the Yala River has a metallic taste they attribute to the company's use of fertilizer. Odindo says Dominion's spraying of pesticides has sickened some animals. "Every home has a dead cow or dead goat," he says.
"A soil and water analysis in August, paid for by the antipoverty group ActionAid International, concluded that people shouldn't drink from the Yala River. Among the concerns mentioned in the analysis are the presence of dieldrin, a chemical ingredient in some pesticides that has been linked to breast cancer and Parkinson's disease. The Environmental Protection Agency banned dieldrin in the U.S. in 1987."[4]

However, Burgess claims the farm does not use insecticides, only fertilizers and herbicides. A former manager (Grahame Vetch, manager from 2004 to 2007) says that they did use pesticides "to battle crop-eating pests, such as the quelea bird."[4] This was reiterated by a Dominion employee in Quality Assurance, who said in 2012 that pesticides were used to kill the quelea bird.[9] The chemical used was likely Fenthion. When asked about other pests, she said "You know, aphids? Then there is the stem borer. Those are the main ones. So we just control them." When asked how they were controlled, she replied, "We just use the aerial spray."

As of 2009, Dominion had made several promises to help the local community, which community members felt were not being kept. Among the promises were 300 acres of land for residents to use communally and rehabilitating at least one school and one health clinic in each of Siaya and Bondo districts. As of 2009, they had renovated one health facility, although "residents say they have trouble reaching the small facility because the road to it runs through Dominion's farm and company security officers sometimes deny them access." At the time, no schools had been renovated "although Dominion has donated building materials for those projects."[4] As for the 300 acres:

"By all accounts, the 300 acres Dominion has set aside for communal farming hasn't been used for that purpose. The reasons are in dispute. Burgess blames local officials for keeping people off the land. The officials want to supervise the farming and collect the profits, he alleges. Local farmers, in contrast, say that when they tried to plant crops, they were blocked by the company or saw their maize and rice uprooted by Dominion bulldozers, according to Owalla, the community organizer. Burgess denies these accusations. It is difficult for an outsider to get to the bottom of the matter."[4]

In a rebuttal to the 2009 Business Week article, Burgess denied and contradicted many of the article's claims, saying:[10]

"My heart sank as I tried to understand how a senior journalist for Business Week chose not to use this opportunity to cover a revolutionary way of doing business in Africa that combines Western agribusiness practices to employ hundreds of locals and feed thousands throughout the country. Instead, she used this respected business magazine as a platform to promote a misguided social agenda."

In the rebuttal, he claims that the number of families displaced could not have exceeded 94, based on the number of land titles that existed in the area. However, families in Kenya often do not have titles to their ancestral land. He also cites the lack of homes and buildings within the swamp itself, ignoring the fact that locals used the swamp for many purposes without actually constructing homes within it. About the jobs provided by the farm, he said: "Dominion currently employs between 600-700 people, approximately 350 of which are permanent employees while the others are casual workers who perform seasonal field work as needed." He also denies any control over or blame for the flooding in 2007. However, wetlands such as swamps often serve as a buffer against extreme weather, containing the capacity to absorb large amounts of rainfall. With the draining of the swamp and the construction of the dykes, it's quite possible (if not probable) that the large amount of rain in 2007 led to floods that would not have happened had the swamp remained in place. Additionally, Burgess notes his operation's work to clean toxins out of the water. This is a function that the swamp had already naturally performed before Dominion removed it.

As for the 300 acres set aside for locals to use, a 2011 article about a major protest by local farmers against Dominion noted that the company "had initially allowed the community to cultivate 150 acre piece of land both sides for Siaya and Bondo districts and even added them another 300 acres but the agreement was that they would vacate when the Company wants to use it."[11] That time came in 2011 and "the Dominion farm management sent tractors into the community farms which the farmers had allegedly encroached and refused to vacate as was agreed."

Wildlife Observed at Dominion Farms

Despite heavy use of pesticides and other agrochemicals, Dominion is home to abundant and diverse wildlife species. These include the following birds:[1]

Also observed were large monitor lizards measuring approximately three to four feet long.[1]

Dominion in Nigeria


Contact Information

Articles and resources

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 Observed by Jill Richardson, visit to Dominion Farms, February 22, 2012. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Jill" defined multiple times with different content Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Jill" defined multiple times with different content
  2. District Environment Action Plan (DEAP), Bondo District: 2006-2011," District Environment Office, May 2007.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 Frankline, "Kenya: Dominion Farms Puts Power to Create Wealth in the People's Hands,", July 21, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 Jessica Silver-Greenberg, "Land Rush in Africa," Business Week, November 25, 2009.
  5. Samwel Ong'Wen Okuro "Land Grab in Kenya: Risks and Opportunities, Bondo University, December 2011.
  6. "ADDRESSING THE LAND QUESTION OF THE YALA SWAMP AND SECURING ITS ECOLOGICAL INTEGRITY," Letter from Friends of Yala Swamp to Hon. James Aggrey Orengo, Minister for Lands, Republic of Kenya, June 16, 2011.
  7. History, Dominion Farms, Accessed February 26, 2012.
  8. History, Dominion Farms, Accessed February 26, 2012.
  9. Jill Richardson, Kenya Diaries: Day 17, Part 3 - Dominion Farms, Part 3, La Vida Locavore, June 6, 2012.
  10. Calvin Burgess, Business Week Rebuttal, November 2009.
  11. George Ochieng, "MPs-Siaya county residents protest illegal Dominion Farms/Gold mining activities in the region," Kenya Radar Live, September 1, 2011.
  12. Management Team, Dominion Farms, Accessed February 26, 2012.

External resources

External articles