By Anjali Parasnis, Ajith Radhakrishnan and Mahesh Patankar (2030 WRG India team)
Emerging standards in wastewater treatment and monitoring:
Globally, wastewater treatment is now perceived to be at par with the imperative to treat freshwater for human consumption. However, levels of contamination and treatment of water bodies still significantly vary across regions. Among other countries in South Asia, the state of contamination and treatment of water bodies in India is still evolving. According to the 2018 report of the Government of India’s (GOI) think tank Niti Ayog, 70% of India’s water resources is contaminated. Additionally, out of the 122 countries assessed for the water quality index, India is ranked number 120. This is mainly due to the raw sewage and unprocessed industrial effluent water flowing into the country’s major rivers and water bodies. Fortunately, the GOI’s initiatives are moving in the right direction as seen in recent efforts to assign economic value to treated wastewater. Progress is likewise reflected in the January 2018 tariff order of the Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority, as well as in the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) recent order insisting on stringent standards for wastewater treatment. The NGT order in particular marks the first time that standards related to key parameters (e.g. biological and chemical oxygen demand, suspended solids, nitrogen (ammonia and nitrates), phosphorus, and fecal coliform) were made strict. In summary, the GOI is poised to offer a substantial boost to efforts toward wastewater treatment and reuse.
AMR – an emerging global threat and its link with the water sector:
All around the world, a new threat to water bodies and human health has been identified. Specifically, the contamination of water bodies due to residual antibiotics found in sewage and industrial effluents, has been determined as the next priority area in need of immediate attention. Antibiotics used for human consumption and for applications in animal husbandry, as well as effluents disposed from drug manufacturing facilities enter into ecosystems, water sources, and food chains. In several emerging economies, the poultry industry uses high amounts of antibiotics in bird feed that is used to raise broilers. The presence of these residual antibiotics in turn develops antimicrobial resistance (AMR) among the microbial organisms present in wastewater and soil. This phenomenon poses a serious threat to human health. Meanwhile, recently published media reports warn that the world’s water bodies are contaminated with dangerous levels of antibiotics.
We attempt to evaluate what recent global studies inform us regarding the vulnerability of the Indian agriculture sector, which is a major consumer of water. The agricultural practices and irrigation in drought-prone areas mainly depend on water sourced from nearby rivers or streams, or else from groundwater. Due to the contamination of water bodies, toxins such as heavy metals, residual pesticides, organic chemicals, and antibiotics are carried, through water, onto agricultural areas and food chains, thus introducing serious threats to human health and to the environment. There is hence a need to sensitize stakeholders to the threats of using unprocessed wastewater for agricultural applications. Equally necessary is a call for action to define the problem in the Indian context. Monitoring of antibiotic and drug residues in wastewater as well as their further processing using modern technologies are essential to India’s development process.
Presence of drugs like antibiotics, pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs), and endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) in the aquatic environment is a global concern. These compounds, reported to have adverse impacts on the health of humans, animals, aquatic life, and the wider environment, have been detected in various quantities from treated wastewater, surface water, and groundwater. More importantly, through exposure to antibiotics from wastewater, natural microorganisms have acquired resistance to many antibiotics, which occurrence is regarded as a threat to modern medicine (Box 1).
Global efforts to identify the extent of AMR
Given the growing global problem of drug-resistant infections and its implications, the UK Prime Minister commissioned the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance in 2015. According to the WHO, 490,000 people around the world developed multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in the year 2016, and drug resistance is starting to complicate the fight against HIV and malaria, too. Furthermore, the treatment failure of the drug of last resort (DoLR) for gonorrhea (i.e. third-generation cephalosporin antibiotics) has been confirmed over the last few years in at least 10 countries (Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, Norway, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). It is estimated that AMR may reduce world gross domestic product by 2-3% per year, imposing trillions of dollars on the already crushing global economic burden.
Global production and use of antibiotics is increasing considerably. Around 20 years ago, annual antibiotic usage was estimated to be between 100,000 and 200,000 tons globally. An assessment conducted in 76 countries from 2000 to 2015 also indicated a 65% increase in trends in and drivers of antibiotic consumption, expressed in defined daily dosage (DDD). Assuming the Business As Usual (BAU) scenario, consumption of antibiotics in 2030 has been projected to be up to 200% higher than the 42 billion DDDs estimated in 2015. Now besides human consumption, there are diverse applications of drugs in veterinary practices, animal husbandry, aquaculture, fisheries, agriculture, and medical research. The large quantities of used and unused drugs from all such applications are released into natural ecosystems in various forms, like parent compounds, derivatives, degradation intermediates, and/or a combination of all these forms. Only a few compounds are degraded in the ecosystem, but many are persistent and take a substantial amount of time to degrade completely.
Policy imperatives / Key action points:
In several emerging economies such as India, sectors like food processing, pharmaceuticals, and animal husbandry are identified as contributors to high growth and profits. Still and all, relevant policy interventions that are implemented at an early stage would be highly beneficial to circumventing the risks of AMR, and to instilling best practices for the protection of ecosystems in the process of development. A shortlist of priority policy directions are:
- Stringent regulation of the production and usage of antibiotics, drugs, and their precursors
- Restriction of the sale and overuse of drugs in human as well as veterinary applications: A strategic transition of antibiotic usage from over-the-counter (OTC) marketing status to strictly prescription-based (Rx) availability would be required.
- Early detection through integration of (Internet of Things) IoT for monitoring of antibacterial/drug contents in natural ecosystems, as well as of components of potable water resources and food chains
- Treatment and stringent periodic assessment of sewage water, industrial effluents, and sludge for presence of residual drugs as well as microflorae
- Budgetary provisions for establishing anaerobic treatment reactors, constructed wetlands, settling tanks, and/or other relevant treatment techniques
- Awareness among stakeholders regarding the concept of AMR and its causes and implications
 Global increase and geographic convergence in antibiotic consumption between 2000 and 2015, Eili Y. Klein, Thomas P. Van Boeckel, Elena M. Martinez, Suraj Pant, SumanthGandra, Simon A. Levin, Herman Goossens, Ramanan Laxminarayan, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Apr 2018, 115 (15) E3463-E3470; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1717295115
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2001. Handbook on Advanced Non‐Photochemical Oxidation Processes. EPA/625/R-01/004. EPA Office of Research and Development, Washington, DC. https://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPDF.cgi/30004HSM.PDF?Dockey=30004HSM.PDF
The Kenya Industrial Water Alliance (KIWA) organized a third peer-2-peer learning exchange visit under the ‘Leading by Example’ initiative supported by 2030 WRG to share best practices in industrial water management.
Nestlé Kenya Limited is the local branch of Nestlé S.A., the largest food and beverage company in the world with over 2000 brands globally. Although the factory’s water needs are relatively small as the factory produces only dry products which are manufactured using dry processes, water plays a critical role in its every-day operations, and the company has made water stewardship a priority at all levels of the organization.
The Mount Kenya Growers Group is one of the key stakeholders in the establishment of the Mount Kenya Ewaso Water Partnership (MKEWP) – an initiative facilitated by 2030 WRG and supported by the Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF). We interviewed Topper Murray, Managing Director of Lolomarik Farm to talk about his experience navigating the relationship between commercial flower growers and smallholder farmers in the Mount Kenya region as the Chair of the Mount Kenya Growers Group.
The Mount Kenya region—which encompasses Meru, Nyeri, and Laikipia counties—is like no other region on earth. Despite straddling the equator, the region enjoys a temperate climate, and rivers fed by glaciers from Mount Kenya flow through the region. It also receives 12 hours of sunshine a day—all year round. Taken together, these factors make the region a perfect place to grow flowers. Unsurprisingly, the region has become one of the world’s top flower producers. In fact, it is now home to approximately 40 commercial flower farms that export flowers to markets all over the world. In total, flower farms in the region account for about 1,100 hectares of cultivated land. The flower industry in the Mount Kenya region contributes approximately US$60 million (KSh6 billion) to the local economy and is thus is a major engine of economic growth in the region.
Lolomarik Farm with Mount Kenya in the background
Despite favorable geographical conditions, running a flower farm in the region is not without problems. Because of widespread perception among smallholder farmers that commercial flower growers are selfish water users, tension between the two is common. Commercial flower growers often feel like they are walking on eggshells.
“It is difficult to be a commercial grower here. Smallholder farmers think that we are using up all the water from the river. They blame us when they don’t have enough water during the dry season. And when it floods, like it did last April, we are also blamed because some farmers believe that the greenhouses in our farms prevent rainwater from percolating into the ground,” says Topper Murray, Managing Director of Lolomarik Farm, a rose farm in Laikipia County, Kenya.
To correct such misperceptions and improve relations between commercial flower growers and smallholder farmers in the region, 20 commercial flower growers came together to form the Mount Kenya Growers Group, which Murray now chairs. As a first step, the group collected data about the amount of water they use. The result was quite surprising. Contrary to commonly-held belief, commercial flower growers there use only 10 percent of the water in Meru, Laikipia, and Nyeri counties.
The truth is, commercial flower growers in the region have been practicing integrated water resources management to minimize business costs and risks for some time now. Using rainwater collection infrastructures such as plastic-lined reservoirs, they have been supplying most of their farms’ water needs.
“Two years ago, there was a long drought. Many farms had to stop irrigating their farms and they had no crops in the ground. But Lolomarik was able to continue growing because we had, over the year, already stored 5,000 cubic meters of rainwater per hectare to supply our greenhouses,” Murray recounts. “This is why we invest 16 percent of our revenue each year in water storage systems.”
Topper Murray surveys a rainwater collection reservoir in Lolomarik Farm
Equipped with concrete data about their actual water use, members of the Mount Kenya Growers Group wanted to reach out to smallholder farmers in the region. In addition to correcting widespread misinformation, the group also wanted to help smallholder farmers to better manage their water resources. But because smallholder farmers are geographically dispersed, they are notoriously difficult to reach.
Fortunately for members of the Mount Kenya Growers Group, an opportunity presented itself when the Mount Kenya Ewaso Water Partnership (MKEWP)—an initiative facilitated by 2030 WRG and supported by the Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF)—approached Murray. MKEWP has already been working with local Water Resource User Associations (WRUAs) to address water resources management issues in the region. MKEWP knew that a conversation about water resources management in the area must include all water users in the region, and that means bringing commercial flower growers to the table.
Murray understood the importance for the group to have a neutral partner trusted by community members—in particular smallholder farmers—and decided to join MKEWP. MKEWP helped organize trips for smallholder farmers in the community to visit the farms of commercial flower growers in the group. Through such visits, these smallholder farmers had the opportunity to learn about the types of water storage systems used by commercial flower growers to supply their water needs. Commercial growers in the group also shared knowledge about sustainable agricultural best practices with the smallholder farmers who were visiting.
Greenhouse in Lolomarik Farm
“We invited them into our greenhouses. For each farm we have, we have two simple plastic-lined reservoirs each containing 80,000 cm3 of water. When they saw our reservoirs, they were amazed at how much rainwater could be collected in just one reservoir,” remarks Murray.
During one such visit, a smallholder farmer who was impressed by the amount of water stored in one of the reservoirs in Murray’s farm asked about the cost of building a reservoir. Murray replied that building such a reservoir would cost approximately KSh30 million. The farmer looked thoughtfully at Murray and replied, “if a group of farmers like me get together and contribute some money, we could also build a storage facility like that!”
“At that moment, the farmer realized that, with a little coordination, owning a water storage system is not out of their reach,” Murray recalls. “The Mount Kenya region receives enough rainfall to supply the needs of the region; we just need to find a way to collect it. If we can help smallholder farmers build modern water storage systems, many of our community’s water challenges could be overcome.”
Greenhouses and rainwater collection reservoirs in Lolomarik Farm
In addition to sharing best practices about water resources management with smallholder farmers, Murray also wanted to help smallholder farmers to maximize the potential of their land. In one of his farms, Murray built a small-scale demonstration plot with a chicken farm and a cow to show farmers how much they could produce with an eighth of an acre of land, which is the size of a typical family farm commonly called shamba. “We wanted to show smallholder farmers that they can grow enough crops on their shamba to provide enough food for the family and still have leftover to sell in the market if they manage their farms using a holistic approach,” says Murray.
Topper Murray and visiting smallholder farmers on demonstration plot built by Lolomarik Farm
It is through interactions like this that many smallholder farmers in the region begin to see commercial flower growers not as inconsiderate competitors for water resources, but as responsible water users in their community who are willing to share their knowledge about agri-water best practices. For Murray, engagement with smallholder farmers is not about public relations for the flower industry. “It is about transparency. It is about knowing that you are doing the right thing,” remarks Murray.
Murray believes that more could be done to ensure everyone in the region has the amount of water they need, and he believes that MKEWP has another role to play. Just as MKEWP acts a bridge between commercial flower growers in the region, MKEWP could also act as a bridge between all water users in the region and the public sector. “If we want to address system water issues such as inadequate water storage facilities and illegal abstractions, we must work with the public sector. Only when we all work together will we be able to achieve holistic water resources management,” Murray states.
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About Mount Kenya Growers Group
The Mount Kenya Growers Group is a membership organization that represents 20 commercial flower farmers in the region. Together, these farms account for approximately 600 hectares of cultivated land in the Mount Kenya region. They directly employ 9,600 people, half of whom are women, and indirectly benefit about 96,000 people in the area.
About Mount Kenya Ewaso Water Partnership (MKEWP)
The Mount Kenya Ewaso Water Partnership (MKEWP) is a partnership of public, private and civil society organizations committed to socially acceptable, economically favorable, and environmentally sustainable management of water resources in the Ewaso Ng’iro North Catchment area. Spearheaded by the County Government of Laikipia and Mount Kenya Growers Group, and supported by the Kenya 2030 Water Resources Group, the partnership provides a mechanism through which water access, use, management and conservation in the Upper Ewaso Ng’iro North Catchment area could be addressed.
About Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF)
The Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF) is a membership organization founded in 1992 to address a set of common natural resources management issues in Laikipia, Kenya. Since 1992, LWF has grown to include 6,000 members, many of which are community natural resources management groups such as Community Forest Associations, Water Resource User Associations, Wildlife Clubs, and Conservancies of group ranches.
This article was originally published in the May 29 edition of Kenya’s People Daily and can be accessed online here.
Nairobians are again facing the realities of water shortages and minimal rainfall. When we are forced to make do with less, we naturally turn our focus to how we can get more. More water, boreholes and dams.
But a focus on how to extract more water without equal attention to how we are using it risks driving us to a point where there is less and less until there is none. If we continue to manage our water resources like we are, our need for water will outstrip the available supply by approximately 30 per cent by 2030.
Kenya’s manufacturing sector is a key driver of socio-economic growth and has a major role to play in safeguarding the country’s water security. But manufacturing is water intensive, and to continue withdrawing more water without addressing the efficiency with which we use our most precious resource is unsustainable and poses a serious threat to our water security.
The amount of water used by Kenyan industry per dollar output is much higher than in most developed countries. For every $1,000 (Sh100,000) of product produced, industry uses around 18.7m³ of water. Compare that to 8.1m³ in Tanzania, and 4m³ in South Africa, two countries also struggling with the realities of not-enough-water, and it’s clear that we are not as efficient as we could be.
Increasing our water productivity is both an environmental and economic imperative. Already, businesses are experiencing the fallout of inadequate water quantity and quality. Many companies have been forced to relocate to areas with more water or secure alternative sources of supply for their respective water needs. This adds to their production costs and decreases their competitiveness.
Water scarcity significantly impacts business operations and safeguarding it will ensure that industries promptly supply goods to consumers whilst contributing to the economy.
Additionally, more stringent supply chain and procurement policies are fast becoming a reality as policymakers worldwide focus on how to improve global resource efficiency. Export-oriented industries will need to comply or risk being left behind in favour of compliant competitors.
More so, the policy environment in Kenya is evolving fast. Just last year, Kenya hosted the first ever Sustainable Blue Economy conference where President Uhuru Kenyatta declared that Kenya will lead in the adoption of policies and mechanisms to safeguard water resources. To achieve this, we need better information about water usage. No regulation exists to compel industries to report comprehensively on water use, management and discharge.
The Kenya Industrial Water Alliance — a partnership of public, private and civil society organisations committed to collectively address water-related risks to industrial development and growth, and supported by the Kenya 2030 Water Resources Group — is working with the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and the Water Resource Authority to address this gap.
The alliance is developing a platform to consolidate industrial water-use information, which will provide a comprehensive, real-time overview of the amount of water being consumed for industrial purposes.
Policy makers and government agencies will have the information required for more effective and fair allocation and management of water, resulting in more consistent and equitable delivery.
The project will be piloted in the Athi catchment, where water-use is already exceeding environmentally sustainable limits. I encourage all industries and businesses with operations within the project’s scope to join this initiative.
The writer is the CEO of Kenya Association of Manufacturers | email@example.com
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