It is believed that the amount of cash generated from the economy around Lake Naivasha has no parallels anywhere in Sub-Saharan Africa. For example, the horticultural and flower farms generate approximately Ksh70billion a year and employ about 30,000 people who support other people indirectly, and promote other businesses such as transport and food-related enterprises.
Despite this, there has been a big and ongoing controversy surrounding use of resources within and around the Lake. This goes back to early 1900s, when it was used as Nairobi’s principal port for Catalina flying boats that transported people and mail from Britain to South Africa. The area was to become famous for the notoriety of the white settlers who lived there particularly between the 1920s and 1940s. This was the ‘happy-valley’ lot whose carefree life inspired the 1987 movie dubbed White Mischief.
In 1929, an elite club, the Lake Naivasha Reparian Association (LNRA), was formed bringing together settlers who owned property, and lived around the lake. Somehow, this group managed to secure the mandate to manage the lake and the riparian land from the British colonial government in 1933. It is said that this agreement is in force till today.
Upon noticing that the size of the lake varies with time, they did not hesitate to expand their land into the lake whenever its shoreline receded. For instance, in the early 1900s, the Lake is said to have dried up but years after the land owners had expanded their land, it rained so heavily that the flood waters ‘took back’ whatever land had been taken over by the settlers.
Today, the size of the lake varies, with most estimates been somewhere between 139 sq km and 150 sq km. It’s a shallow lake (6-30 metres deep) that forms part of the Great Rift Valley Lake system. The ecosystem has diverse wildlife and prolific birdlife with ornithologists estimating that it has as many as 400 species of birds. Other animals found there include zebra’s, hippopotamus, fish and crocodiles. Reports show that there are 19 public access routes to the lake; with the LNRA members having exclusive access to 18 of them while only one is left for everyone else.
Because of rich soils, favourable climate, adequate farmland and easy access to fresh water, Lake Naivasha ecosystem is suitable for farming. This has attracted small and large scale farmers especially those who practice horticulture. The 1970s saw ’serious’ horticulture been taken up there resulting in an unprecedented rise in production, large-scale use of water resources as well as poisoning of natural resources as chemicals used in the farms found their way into the lake.
With this in mind, the very idea of flower farming has been put to question with pundits asking why a country that is barely able to feed itself has adopted it. But there are those who say the incomes acquired from working in the local flower sector can be used to buy food for families of those living around the lake.
The lake is the only significant fresh water body in Kenya. Though it generates large amounts of money, the neighbourhoods around the farms have high levels of poverty which is said to have aggravated poaching of wildlife besides increasing crime rate and other ills.
In an attempt to solve these problems, many organizations and activist have featured there doing or purpoting to do thing or the other to save the lake. However, there has been little success; the lake continues to shrink.
With this too has been a big ‘blame game’ with questions being asked on who, really, is responsible for the degradation. On the one hand, small scale farmers and pastoralists blame the large scale producers of horticultural crops.
On their part, large farmers had initially owned up acknowledging that they had not made adequate efforts to clean up their act. But they now say they have changed their ways as they have embraced such water-saving measures as drip irrigation and use of wetlands to soak up the dirt and thereby clean up waste water. For one, Oserian, one of the largest flower concern there, has adopted water-saving and anti-pollution measures which have been hailed across the board.
The Naivasha municipal council has also been blamed for not renovating and expanding the town’s sewage system so as to accommodate the ever growing population in the town. As a result, raw sewage has occasionally found its way into the lake.
Small scale farmers have also been accused of farming next to the river banks, thus breaking the law that prohibits any farming anywhere within 30 metres from a river bank. Farming next to the river bank has ended up polluting water flowing along the Lake’s tributaries. Smallholder farmers are also blamed for extracting water from rivers to the upstream of the lake without any regard to the law.
The blame game has gone on and on with the national water bodies been accused by the LNRA of diverting the waters of River Malewa, the main tributary, to supply residents of Nakuru city with water.
On their part, local fishermen are blamed for over fishing and for affecting the aquatic life in the Lake.
Lastly, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the Kenya government have been blamed for not implementing relevant environmental laws.
The lake Naivasha ecosystem is a common resource and thus, at the end of the day, everyone appears to want to maximize whatever benefits they get from it without control. Lack of a universally-acceptable management plan that should be in line with the RAMS A convention of 1971, is at the root of the crisis.
But it is not that the ecosystem lacks a management plan. Indeed, there are several management plans which have not been implemented as they were not enacted through an all-inclusive process. This include initiatives by the Green Belt movement, Kenya Wildlife Service and the lake Naivasha Imarisha Programme under the Office of the Prime Minister.
On its part, the LNRA sponsored a process that ended up with a management plan that was gazetted by the then minister for environment, Ste-hen Kalonzo Musyoka, in 2004. But no sooner had the ink dried than the matter was taken to court with those who did it saying that it was made without public consultation and participation of most stakeholders. An injunction against its implementation is still in force today.
The Africa Network for Animal Welfare (ANAW) stepped in to address some of the teething issues surrounding resource use in the lake. ANAW came up with the Lake Naivasha Ecosystem Protection and Conservation (or Save Lake Naivasha Project) in 2008. Although ANAW’s core mandate is to promote animal welfare, the protection of wildlife habitats forms a core strategic concern for the organization. This is implemented under the Biodiversity Conservation and Animal Welfare program that is headed by Samuel Theuri (also ANAWs acting Head of Programs).
Theuri says ANAW sought to create a management plan for everyone which meant mobilizing local people so as to achieve one document acceptable to all. This involved staging a meeting that had representatives from 63 community based organizations and non-governmental organizations from most of the regions -Naivasha, North and South Gilgil, Mount Longonot, and Mai Mahiu areas. This led to the appointment of a 17-member committee, a steering committee and environmental legal expert. The group was to come up with the strategy for drafting the management plan. This team had four sittings from 2009-2010.
For purposes of seeking the approval and involvement of everyone, ANAW sponsored another meeting in 2010 during which the committee presented the draft document that was discussed incorporating everyone’s submissions.
Later, the management plan was presented to the area legislator, John Mututho, whose input was also included. ANAW also sought audience with NEMA to discuss it and a meeting with the latter’s Sub-Department of Coastal Marine and Fresh Waters was held on May 30 2011. During, the meeting, NEMA agreed to involve ANAW in developing a State of Environment Report for Lake Naivasha.
Samuel Theuri says; ‘this report will become a policy document that will put in place necessary structures and assist in making informed decisions on the conservation and management of the lake.” The drafting of the report is still in progress.
By Elizabeth Muia & Gatu Mbaria
Animal Welfare Magazine December 2011