July 29, 2011 by
Located in the western part of Kenya, the Nyando River flows from the Rift Valley highlands, supplying irrigation water to vast rice fields along the way before emptying into Lake Victoria.
Severe problems of environmental degradation and poverty can be found throughout the Nyando basin. Soil erosion causes heavy sedimentation in the river, as yawning gulleys eat up farms and separate villages. Flooding destroys homes and farmland whenever it rains, rendering thousands of people destitute. Meanwhile, intense agricultural activity is causing excessive flow of nutrients into the Nyando River, and subsequently, into Lake Victoria.
Dialogue on solving environmental problems across the Nyando basin has been made difficult in recent years by ethnic tension between the inhabitants of the highlands and those of the lowlands.
PRESA sees payments and rewards for environmental services (PES) as a viable means of addressing environmental degradation at the Nyando River basin. However, the Nyando basin is unique in that, while the prospective sellers of environmental services are identified as the local communities, the buyers are not easy to distinguish.
It may be possible to describe the rice farmers at the lowlands as beneficiaries of environmental services provided by the Nyando, but most of them are poor, small-scale farmers. It is because of this uniqueness at the Nyando basin that PRESA is making the case for a publicly-funded payment for environmental services scheme.
PRESA is working through a consortium that includes the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Maseno University, Moi University, the Lake Victoria Institute for Research and Development (VIRED), World Neighbours, government agencies, community leaders and community-based organizations.
The consortium had its latest meeting on 22 July 2011, at the town of Kisumu in Kenya. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss progress made by individual member organizations since the previous meeting in April 2011.
Participants agreed that the Nyando River basin can be rehabilitated by implementing measures such as:
- Increased tree cover
- Water harvesting technologies
- Desilting existing water pans
- On-farm water retention technologies
- Constructing new dams and rehabilitating existing ones
- Sustainable land use practices.
Indeed, consortium members are already doing many of these things. However, they are encountering challenges which were discussed in the meeting. For instance, one of the water resource user associations (WRUAs) is constructing water pans, but disputes have arisen over control of the water pans, especially where they are located within an individual’s farm. Other groups face difficulties convincing communities to stop farming along riverbanks, yet these are usually the most fertile and best watered lands available.
The meeting was an opportunity for downstream and highland ethnic groups to discuss the extent of environmental degradation in the Nyando River basin. From the discussions, participants realized that there is need to involve upstream communities, as most springs that are the source of the Nyando’s tributaries are located in the highlands.
Community representatives noted that some individuals enjoy the fruits of community work without contributing labour, land or other necessary inputs. Such individuals were described as ‘free-riders.” To this, PRESA Coordinator Dr. Sara Namirembe offered payments for environmental services (PES) as a solution. “Free riders cannot participate in PES because payments are made after implementing the agreed measures,” explained Dr. Namirembe.
Apart from denying free-riders the benefits that they don’t deserve, PES provides a means of acknowledging the costs that farmers incur while implementing sustainable land management measures. Through PES, the beneficiaries of improved environmental services (such as cleaner water) compensate those who have spent their time, labour and resources putting into practice the recommended land use measures.
During the meeting, consortium members suggested that local government authorities and sugar companies be listed as potential sellers. National water governance bodies, such as the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA) and Water Services Trust Fund might be interested in payments for environmental services.
The Nyando basin consortium continues its work. Member institutions and individual community groups are engaged in environmental awareness and conservation, while also reaching out to policy makers. All in all, the journey towards a full-fledged payments for environmental services scheme has begun.
To see photos of the July 2011 meeting, please click here.