How smart farming improves Nairobi's tap water

Sustainable farming ensures over five million Nairobi residents get improved quality of water.

In Summary

• For several years, forests on the steep hillsides along the Tana River have been slowly converted to farming for tea, coffee and other produce.

• Reduced soil productivity from soil erosion and competition for space has forced farmers onto the steep slopes.

DWINDLING WATER LEVELS: Ndakaini Dam sits on 1,200 acres in Gatanga, Murang'a county. image: ALICE WAITHERA
DWINDLING WATER LEVELS: Ndakaini Dam sits on 1,200 acres in Gatanga, Murang'a county. image: ALICE WAITHERA
Image: FILE:

Stephen Macharia has religiously grown his crops near the Sasumua dam which supplies Nairobi county.

Macharia, who has been an active farmer for over 20 years, admits that his farming practices have been destructive.

“We initially did not have expertise in soil and water conservation. But we have since been trained on sustainable farming,” he says.

Today, Macharia is among 55,342 farmers in the Upper Tana-Nairobi Watershed who are applying soil and water conservation measures, thanks to the training they have undergone.

Macharia has been trained under the Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund, a public-private partnership meant to enhance financial and governance mechanisms to strengthen water security through nature-based solutions in the Upper Tana waters. It was founded in 2015 on the principle that it is cheaper to prevent water problems at the source than addressing them downstream.

For several years, forests on the steep hillsides along the Tana River have been slowly converted to farming for tea, coffee and other produce.

Reduced soil productivity from erosion and competition for space has forced farmers to the steep slopes.

During the rainy seasons, soil water is washed into the river, reducing the productivity of farmland and clogging water distribution and power generation facilities with sediments.

Macharia says the sustainable farming they are undertaking ensures the over five million Nairobi residents get the improved quality of water.

He says before the training, the survival rates of his crops were less than 50 per cent but it is now over 85 per cent.

Macharia has been planting potatoes, vegetables and carrots.

“We sometimes lacked water for farming. We were taught how to harvest rainwater and provided with dam liners  that helped me harvest 100,000 litres,” he says.

Macharia says he can now plant anytime as he has enough water, meaning that he will get ready to market.

“In one acre, I plant 15,000 pieces and sell each Sh 70,” he says, adding that he also plants Napier grass to prevent soil erosion.

Macharia can now pay school fees for his two children  at Mt Kenya University with ease.

Gerald Juma from Wanjithi Village in Nyeri county is another beneficiary of the Fund.

Juma is among the over 8,500 coffee farmers who have benefited from conservation initiatives by the fund since 2016.

He has benefited from the technical advice by the fund, a move that has helped him conserve his land and improve the yields of his 300 coffee trees.

Juma has also excavated and stabilised terraces with nappier grass and Calliandra.

Due to these efforts, there has been a marked increase in coffee yields from four to 10kg and milk yields from five to about 10 litres.

In 2017, Juma started harvesting rainwater, which has enabled him to engage in horticultural farming. He started a tree nursery mainly for Calliandra, which he sells to other farmers.

Juma has also benefited from the biogas unit through a 50 per cent subsidy underpayment for the ecosystem services program.

On Friday, East Africa Breweries Limited in partnership with the Upper Tana-Nairobi Fund Trust gave $50,000 (Sh 6,493,090) funding.

EABL Group corporate relations director Eric Kiniti said water is a key ingredient to their processes and they have to ensure the source is sustainably protected to serve all.

“What we are doing is to ensure that we come up with modalities and practices to ensure that the farmers who live along that watershed area are given tools and advice on how to protect the water towers,” Kiniti said.

Kiniti said it is critical for the watersheds supplying close to five million Nairobi residents to be protected at all costs.

He also said 65 per cent of energy comes from the hydropower stations.

“We are also trying to come up with plans to mitigate the effects of climate change and work closely with farmers living in this place,” he said.

Kiniti said people downstream should also be involved in protecting such watersheds.

“We are using about 3,000 cubic meters of water and we have invested heavily in water recovery by ensuring all the wastewater is collected and treated. We have two water recovery plants both in our Nairobi and Kisumu plants. We are able to use this water for non-core activities,” he said.

Kiniti said they are using about 2.3 litres of water for every litre of alcohol they produce, which is effective across the industry.

He said they have over the years partnered with organisations in Aberdare and Mt Kenya to plant trees as part of their contribution.

In the last 10 years, he said, they have planted over 1 million trees.

“Our target is to plant over five million trees in the next five years,” he said.

Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund president Eddy Njoroge said the initiative needs $5 million (Sh 649,309,000) but what has been raised to date is $4,280,000(Sh 555,808,504).

“The Upper Tana-Nairobi Water Fund generates benefits for the people living in the watershed and for the residents of Nairobi,” Njoroge said.

He said 142,849 farmers have been enrolled in mobile data monitoring platforms, while 79,923 hectares are under sustainable land management practices.

Some 3.7 million trees have since been planted in the watershed, while 117 biogas digesters have been installed as rewards for ecosystem services targets. Additionally, 316km of riparian land have been protected.

Other impacts of the project include 33 river gauging stations installed, while 15,652 water pans have been excavated and lined with UVI-treated liners.

The water pans harvest over two billion litres of water annually.

Coca-Cola Foundation also awarded a $3 million (Sh389, 585,400) grant to scale watershed protection work in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria.

The three-year grant will support conservation activities that contribute to water security for millions across Africa, conserve biodiversity, and enable local communities to achieve significant social and economic benefits.

The scope of work will encourage the adoption of nature-based solutions as a pathway for sustainable management of watersheds and water resources for the long term.

The funds will support TNC’s efforts with partners in the Upper Tana River and Eldoret-Iten in Kenya; Palmiet and Tugela River Basins in South Africa; and Ogun and Osun River Basins in Nigeria.

In the Upper Tana Nairobi Water Fund, the money will support the long-term conservation, protection, and maintenance of the Upper Tana watershed to improve Nairobi’s water security and the proper functioning of hydropower facilities on the Tana River.

In Eldoret-Iten, the funds will address the threat of forest degradation and work with local farmers to implement sustainable land management practices.

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