This is the face of the man behind the Solai Dam tragedy – Perry Mansukhlal Kansagra. Although unknown in Kenya, and he has not come out to speak, he is well known in the world of rose flowers and coffee farming.
A third-generation of Asian farmers, the Patels, Mr Kansagra has been running the family’s Solai Group of Companies growing coffee, macadamia and Rose flowers in both Nakuru and Murang’a.
In Nakuru they own 3500 acres of land of which 800 acres are occupied by a wildlife conservancy – the only one in Solai area.
Born in Kenya, Mr Kansagra was born in wealth, and has a Bachelor of Economics degree from a UK University. Later, he came back to run the family business – living a quiet life and a low-profile safe for a few interviews with KTN and K24.
The tragedy of the Solai Dam, which left more than 40 people dead, has catapulted the quiet farmer and businessman into the spotlight with the Director of Public Prosecution ordering investigation into what went wrong.
The Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA) says the irrigation dam was illegal and had not been approved which might leave the management of the Patel Coffee Estate under siege.
But the farm’s general manager Mr Vinoj Kumar is not taking that accusation lying down: “How can they say it is illegal?” He told Reuters. “It was not built today or yesterday. It was built 20 years back.”
The Solai Group of Companies comprise the Patel Coffee Estate, where the controversial dam was located and a dairy farm known as Tindress Farm with more than 400 Friesian cows. In a day, the farm sells more than 2000 litres of milk to Brookside Dairies.
In Murang’a County, the family also owns Thika’s 65 hectares Enkasiti Flowers which produces 50 million stems of roses per year. A few years back, this farm was associated with former Vice President George Saitoti and Nicholas Biwott.
On part of the Solai farm is a picnic site with surrounded by Hindu statues. There is also a temple known as Shantilal Kansagra Temple. Here groups of worshippers converge every weekend to celebrate. The walkways are lined up with palm trees and flowers and well-trimmed gardens.
But what attracts many visitors here is the 800-acre conservancy with more than 200 wild animals. As a safe haven for the animals, this is one of the remaining sanctuary in the region which is surrounded by former settler farms now divided into small-holdings.
Kansagra inherited this fortune from his late grandfather Shantilal Nathabhai Patel, who had settled in Solai in 1930s – and is said to have given this small town the Indian Tamil name Solai – which means garden.
The Patels bought the original farm from a white settler shortly after independence and have managed to expand it over the years. It has since blossomed into a multi-billion business with coffee, flowers and macadamia, a dairy farm, an iodised salt factory in Malindi and ceramics trade in Nairobi. In essence, Solai Group operates in about 14 countries including UK, Rwanda, Uganda, Nigeria and India.
In 1980s, the local MP Koigi Wamwere had tried to stop the family from building dams on the farm.
“It is true when I was an MP, I had a big fight with Mansukul Patel trying to stop him construct private dams on public rivers because he was denying his neighbors and my voters river water. At the same time Patel was denying residents of Marigu, Nyakinyua, Solai and Banita right of way through his farm to Kabazi and Subukia areas. Once again, old impunity was monopolizing river water for private use. For saying no to this private greed, many called me a trouble maker,” Koigi told Top Farmer.
The Solai tragedy has brought to the fore the question of irrigation dams and what farmers should do to offset such tragedy.