Lake Naivasha is an internationally renowned Ramsar site located in the Rift Valley in Kenya. But unlike most other designated wetlands of international importance, the water in Lake Naivasha also anchors a flourishing horticultural industry. It is unique in that it is home to both an internationally renowned environmental treasure as well as a blossoming agriculture industry that exports high value fresh vegetables and cut-flowers to European and English markets. The two most valuable crops in the Naivasha basin are cut flowers and vegetables. The vegetables grown in Lake Naivasha contribute approximately KSh6.65 billion ($95 million) to the Kenyan economy. Kenya is also one of the world’s largest exporters of cut-flowers and Lake Naivasha is at the heart of the nation’s floriculture industry, accounting for more 70 per cent (KSh28 billion) of the country’s cut flower exports. The Naivasha basin involves a broad group of stakeholders including large horticulture companies and their employees, smallholder farmers, local government and basin inhabitants, and those dependent on the broader Kenyan economy and trade.
Given its links to the national economy and the international export markets, these risks are not localized within the basin, but extend through to the rest of Kenya. The discharge of municipal waste water and irrigation return flow poses threats to the water quality in the lake. The direct use of Lake Wetland areas for the cultivation of horticulture, cattle ranching and game during drought periods are having detrimental consequences for the lake’s ecological functioning. The risk of deterioration of the lake’s water quality and ecosystems pose secondary risks such as reputational loss, withdrawal of existing investments and loss of future investment potential.
The Lake Naivasha Riparian Association (LNRA) was established in 1929 to protect local land owner’s rights. With the advent of the floriculture industry in the early 1980s, the LNRA became more strident in trying to balance the impact of the expanding commercial interests surrounding the lake with protecting its environmental integrity. The Lake Naivasha Growers Group (LNGG) was also established in the late 1990s by a group of progressive commercial farmers who recognized that their commercial interests were tied up in the sustainable use of the lake. Although they have different incentives, both of these groups have established capacity and are well versed in the environmental issues of the lake.
In addition, the government has established the Lake Naivasha Imarisha Board to coordinate all actions and actors in the basin. Through a combination of consumer and buyer pressures, the private sector has made some significant strides in self-regulating water use in commercial farming operations. One of the concrete results is that the LNGG is a commercial farming body has adopted its own code of practice relating to water use and environmental impacts that its members have to follow.
Results and lessons learnt
- There is a general recognition of the issues around the lake and its catchment, but coherent and proactive management of the water resources in the basin has been limited during the period of rapid development over the past two decades. This resulted in mobilization of both private sector and the government to find a lasting solution.
- Today, there is also widespread acknowledgement that the water and land management of the basin must improve, which will require adequate institutional arrangements and resourcing.
- There is critical knowledge gap related to abstracted water use in the basin and also the interaction of water flows between the lake and groundwater reserves. It is therefore impossible to implement effective water resource governance measures without knowing how much water is currently being abstracted by stakeholders and similarly knowing how much water is available.
- The Payment for Environmental Services (PES) programme provides a useful precedent of such a partnership. Water users around the lake were able to influence the land use practices of smallholder farmers in the upper catchment by sharing knowledge and promoting more sustainable agriculture practices that have led to tangible welfare increases.