Kenya – Lake Victoria Basin

Setting the stage for a publicly funded ecosystem restoration programme at the Nyando and Yala River Basins

The Nyando and Yala rivers are located in western Kenya, and both flow from the Mau forest complex into the Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria.

PHOTO: Peter Minang

PHOTO: Peter Minang

The Nyando river basin covers 3,587 square kilometres while the Yala river basin covers 3,111 square kilometres. The basins vary in altitude from about 3,000 meters above sea level at their headwaters to 1,184 meters where they drain into Lake Victoria.

The Nyando basin contains some of the most severe problems of environmental degradation and deepening poverty found anywhere in Kenya. The river is a major contributor of sediment and phosphorus to Lake Victoria. The Yala is one of the main Kenyan rivers draining into Lake Victoria and, like the Nyando, is affected by environmental degradation.

Accelerated soil erosion and nutrient runoff from the two river basins have induced a rapid rise in nutrient levels in Lake Victoria. This has led to changes in the lake ecology and rapid growth of aquatic weeds dominated by the water hyacinth, with adverse effects on fishing and lake transport. With the lake supporting over 30 million people in East Africa, interventions that mitigate soil erosion and pollution in affected river basins are needed.

Severe environmental degradation at the Nyando and Yala River basins has drawn the concern of stakeholders. Through a scoping study with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), PRESA analysed tradeoffs for generating environmental services as well as the policies and legislation likely to affect the design and implementation of rewards for those services.

With regards to establishing a payments or rewards for environmental services approach, the Nyando and Yala basins are unique in that both upstream and downstream communities are poor small-scale farmers.

PRESA, therefore, directed its efforts into already ongoing processes by initiating the formation of a stakeholders’ consortium with the objective of making a case for publicly-funded payments for environmental services.

The consortium includes the Lake Victoria Basin Commission, Lake Victoria Institute for Research and Development (VIRED), Maseno University, Moi University, World Neighbours, government agencies, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, parliamentarians and community-based organizations. The consortium is setting in place mechanisms for piloting this work.

At Kakamega, a study on the willingness of land owners to access environmental service payments is ongoing.

Next steps

  • Negotiation for the public funding of a payments for environmental services scheme, with the consortium acting as a boundary organization.
  • With funding from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), produce an atlas of environmental services for the Nyando and Yala basins by synthesizing information accumulated from different projects.

Site profile

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Environmental service

Watershed services.

Potential provider of environmental services

Owners of agricultural land in both the upper and lower catchment areas.

Potential buyer

The public sector