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From Foes to Friends – Mount Kenya Ewaso Water Partnership Helps Bridge Divide Between Commercial Flower Growers and Smallholder Farmers

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.

Why we should safeguard water resources – Phyllis Wakiaga, CEO, Kenya Association of Manufacturers

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 | ceo@kam.co.ke

Africa 2030 WRG Retreat Spotlights Partnership & Collaboration

2030 Water Resources Group (WRG) teams from Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania, together with associates from the Strategic Water Partners Network (SWPN) – the 2030 WRG-supported multi-stakeholder platform in South Africa – and colleagues from the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (IFC) convened in Nairobi at the end of May for a knowledge exchange and retreat aimed at strengthening the effectiveness of 2030 WRG in Africa.

The retreat explored ways to scale 2030 WRG interventions through greater alignment with IFC and World Bank strategies, and harmonization with the One World Bank and Maximizing Finance for Development agendas, which aim to increase collaboration across all World Bank agencies and systematically leverage all sources of finance, expertise, and solutions to support developing countries’ sustainable growth, respectively.

Speaking at the opening session of the event, Jumoke Jagun-Dokunmu, IFC Regional Director for Eastern Africa said that the realities of climate change demanded more creative thinking around how to leverage financing, expertise, and innovation to solve persistent water challenges. IFC, a member of the World Bank Group is committed to expanding access to clean water and improved sanitation in developing countries, and; “We see tremendous opportunities for leveraging our expertise and track record in structuring PPPs across water service provision, agriculture, and promoting investment in water-efficient manufacturing,” she added.

2030 WRG was also challenged to create a more enabling environment for the private sector to participate in the water space by clarifying the process for companies to engage with the various authorities and ministries governing the sector. An estimate by one participant put the ratio of IFC’s advisory services to actual investment in the water space as five to one, a result that they attributed to the complexity and cost of maneuvering in such an administratively and legislatively opaque environment.

In a panel discussion focusing on delivering as ‘One World Bank Group’ participants highlighted 2030 WRG’s unparalleled convening power. Where WBG’s large and diverse portfolio in lending and knowledge exchange provides 2030 WRG with an opportunity to develop its operational expertise and technical knowledge, the WBG can benefit from 2030 WRG’s expertise in recognizing and mobilizing the private sector as a critical constituency.

On the close of the first day, Helene Rex, Program Leader for Sustainable Development at the World Bank stressed that solving the water challenge will require more effective policies and inclusive strategies, additional and innovative forms of domestic and international financing, community participation in decision-making, efficient long-term human and institutional capacity, and smarter technologies.

“The 2030 Water Resources Group is today a credible example of such a partnership and innovation” she said, “successfully building a network of multi-stakeholder platforms that bring together the private and public sectors as equal partners for dialogue and collective action.”

Days two and three of the retreat featured presentations, panels, and facilitated debates on a range of topics including: improving utility resilience and reducing non-revenue water; project management in a partnership environment; MSP sustainability; and incorporating circular economy approaches into wastewater treatment and re-use. The retreat was also an opportunity for colleagues who had recently joined 2030 WRG – the Africa teams grew from ten to 21 in the past year – to meet for the first time and exchange lessons and best practices.

2030 WRG Panel session for EA Agri session

Special focus on farmer-led irrigation opportunities in East Africa during 2030 WRG Africa Retreat

A session focused on farmer-led irrigation opportunities was held during the recent 2030 WRG Africa Knowledge Exchange and Retreat at the end of May 2019, in Nairobi, Kenya. Key take-aways included need to integrate disruptive technologies to transform how agriculture is practiced, importance of market linkages beyond the existing formal export market structures which look at the local market as a viable business opportunity and need for creation of an enabling environment to promote more private sector engagement in farmer-led irrigation.

A presentation by the African Union (AU) provided a continental overview of the AU’s plans to develop Agriculture and Irrigation by adopting a farmer-led irrigation approach. The AU is doing so by designing a continental framework which will provide guidance to member states to develop policies in alignment with the framework to adapt to their local country needs. The speaker highlighted the importance of engaging with the private sector and empowering farmers and elaborated on how the framework aims to create an enabling policy environment for this to happen.

Access to finance and markets for farmers

A deep-dive discussion was held on financing mechanisms for supporting smallholder farmers to invest in water-efficient irrigation technologies. The Tanzania Horticulture Association (TAHA) is currently working with 2030 WRG, Private Agricultural Sector Support (PASS) and Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank (TADB) to incubate and develop a pipeline of 30 bankable projects linking these farmers to offtaker markets and equipment suppliers, leveraging financing from the Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank.

Integrating disruptive tech

A representative from the World Bank Agriculture Global Practice shared examples of various ways in which disruptive technologies are transforming how agriculture is practiced. He argued that most innovative companies are using disruptive technologies to bundle agricultural services including advisory, extension services, input supply, financial services, payment services and market access and the need to use this opportunity to be at the frontier of agricultural transformation. It will be key to build partnerships and leverage these technologies in order to transform how risks are managed, which financial products are offered, and how we can be resilient in the face of climate change. Technology solutions can support agriculture in improving productivity, data analytics, financial inclusion and market linkages. Such innovations need to be better integrated throughout the agriculture sector.

Formalizing the informal

Another speaker from Twiga Foods, a Kenya-based offtaker, is now looking to expand their market to Tanzania. Twiga’s uses an innovative model of formalizing the informal by linking local market traders with supply. Twiga provides offtake market linkages for non-traditional value chains that have previously focused on providing staple foods to the local market through informal street markets. Twiga’s model of providing long term contracts to small holder farmers with guaranteed market pricing has created a steady income for farmers making them able to invest in climate smart farming practices such as irrigation to meet the market demands.

Read more

Read more about the Ramthal project: “Connecting Bagalkote farmers to water supply and market opportunities for growth”

Photo (from left to right) Twiga Foods – Grant Brooke, Executive Director, Africa Union – Dr Mure Agbonlahor, Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank – Mzee Kilele, Agriculture GP – Parmesh Shah, Lead Rural Development Specialist

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