June 30, 2014

Traveling to Integrated Landscapes in Kenya

Louis Wertz, EcoAgriculture Partners

A total traffic jam, par for the course at rush hour in Nairobi, has finally slowed the momentum of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature in Africa conference field trip. I write this while we are barely crawling back into Nairobi during evening rush hour, and the reflections are fresh. We (50 participants from among the 180 conference attendees in two buses) visited two of Kenya’s most dramatic and instructive examples of integrated landscape management.

First, we visited the Lake Naivasha landscape, where the many communities surrounding one of the Great Rift Valley’s few freshwater lakes are engaged in an impressive multi-stakeholder planning and management platform focused on water resources. Some 65 percent of Kenya’s cut flower crop grows here.  Kenya supplies one in every three roses sold in Europe, so that is no small feat. The demands on the lake from those growers alone, the most powerful commercial interests in the area, could be enough to undermine the ecosystem and the livelihoods of other community members. But the growers have just one representative on the 11-member Imarisha Naivasha board.

Local residents with tilapia and black bass bought direct from fishermen at the shore of Lake Naivasha. Photo by Louis Wertz/EcoAgriculture Partners.

Local residents with tilapia and black bass bought direct from fishermen at the shore of Lake Naivasha. Photo by Louis Wertz/EcoAgriculture Partners.

Especially vulnerable to low water levels are the local fishers, who haul tilapia and black (big mouth) bass out of the lake with nets from small blue boats to sell straight from the beach and market in town. Fishers, in turn can have significant impacts on the riparian ecosystem and biodiversity of the lake. They are represented on the Imarisha Naivasha board by the Beach Users Association, which both advocates for the interests of fishers and enforces the rules for using the lake and its resources.

Even more impressive is the involvement of the up-catchment communities in the platform. As the key stewards of the water supply for the lake, the thousands of smallholder farmers in the uplands are critical to the health of the lake and its industries. As Imarisha Naivasha secretariat director Kamau Mbogo says, “We can say that they are the ones who are protecting the ecosystem services of the landscape. Many farmers in the upper catchment are implementing some sustainable practices that are better for their farms, and that, in the long run we know will provide some services like regulating water flows so we don’t have so many peaks and low points.” As part of the Naivasha management plan, these farmers have been targeted to receive training on sustainable land management practices like agroforestry and water harvesting. They are compensated by down-catchment water users for implementing these practices in the form of vouchers they can use to buy farm inputs and supplies.

Writing this from the stopped bus, still sitting in traffic an hour after I began, I can appreciate the forward progress that Imarisha Naivasha is making.

Back when our bus was still moving on the highway, in the afternoon, we pulled into the KENVO offices in the Lari landscape, in Kereita forest. Kereita forest is part of the Kikuyu forest escarpment, which forms the northern face of the Aberdares mountains, one of Kenya’s five “water towers” that provide the country’s fresh water. The first is also home to elephants, Colombia monkeys and many birds of international and  regional interest.

KENVO is a community organization that got its start fighting illegal charcoal making in the forest. But the charcoal makers they arrested would say, according KENVO’s  Leah Mwangi, “‘I have a family to feed. What shall I do now?’ We knew then, we had to get into livelihoods. We could not protect the forest without working on livelihoods.”

Their work on livelihoods includes training more than 100 farmers in beekeeping –to raise local honey to meet high local demand — and organizing dairy and vegetable farmers to improve practices and negotiate better prices. They are exploring an eco-label for Lari landscape products to increase the marketability of these producer’s outputs.

Managing conflict between a growing population, wildlife and the ecosystem services on which all Kenyans depend is tricky. But like our bus, with patience and maneuverability, eventually these communities will get there.

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