NAROK, Kenya, March 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Kelena
Ole Nchoe hopes efforts to share river water in the Ewaso Nyiro
South basin in Kenya’s Rift Valley will help avoid the violence
that has erupted elsewhere between herders and farmers as a
drought crisis shrinks pasture. But he is sure there will be
competition for water in the near future.
Ole Nchoe is the chair of 12 associations for water users
along the Enkare Narok tributary, south of Nairobi, which strive
to use the scarce resource wisely, complementing the work of
nine groups on the main Ewaso Nyiro River. Together they cover a
188-km (117-mile) stretch that flows into Lake Natron near the
On each river, there is a centre that trains and supports
the associations’ members, hosting private and community farms
and carrying out water conservation activities.
Ole Nchoe said the centres advise farmers not to cultivate
crops near the river but to plant trees along its banks instead.
This helps prevent soil erosion that will eventually block the
river with sediment and alter its course, inconveniencing people
Fair sharing of natural resources is key to keeping the
peace among communities that depend on the river, he added.
"When using the river, you must be mindful of other people
who are also using it - including wild animals - or else there
will be trouble," he said.
With the backing of the associations, funded by the Dutch
government, farmers have adopted techniques to keep the land
near the river well-watered and healthy, ranging from
bee-keeping and irrigation to tree planting.
Communities have also constructed small dams to collect and
retain rainwater, and carried out work to preserve springs along
the Ewaso Nyiro River, such as erecting fences.
Daniel Naikuni, a farmer who belongs to one of the Enkare
Narok associations, is worried about declining water volumes, as
well as rampant pollution of the river near Narok town.
“People are doing horticulture cultivation along the river
and are spraying the crops with chemicals that get into the
river,” said the testicular cancer survivor. “This poses a
health threat to the people downstream.”
Other people are releasing raw sewage into the river at
night since the town does not have a sophisticated sanitation
system, he said. Chemicals contained in both farm waste and
sewage expose residents to diseases, he added.
The centres educate farmers about the importance of leaving
a 15-metre (49-ft) gap between their cultivated land and the
river on which to plant trees, Naikuni said.
They are also discouraged from using generators to pump
water from the river and from building furrows on their land.
Instead, the recommendation is to start using drip irrigation.
Tago James, a member of the Naroosura association, said he
uses this kind of precision irrigation, together with
greenhouses, to cut water use and help protect the Ewaso Nyiro
Any drop in water levels could lead to conflicts between
people and wildlife as animals move onto homesteads in search of
water, he warned.
Peter Tajeu, vice chairman of the Olkiramatian conservancy
in Narok County, some 130 km south of Nairobi, said the Ewaso
Nyiro River is a lifeline for both wild animals and livestock.
Animal watering points have been constructed along the river
as it flows towards Lake Natron a few kilometres away, he said.
These watering points prevent vegetation on the banks being
destroyed by animals, helping protect wetlands and swamps in the
semi-arid area of Magadi, he explained. Other efforts include
tree-planting and keeping charcoal burners at bay.
Julius Muriuki, who manages the Ewaso Nyiro South centres
for the non-profit African Conservation Centre, said farmers
along the rivers need to be offered new sources of income to
deter them from intensive cropping and animal rearing, which
drain water from the river.
Alternative activities include bee-keeping, feeding animals
in one place – known as zero-grazing - and greenhouses, he said.
However, if farmers are prevented from cultivating their
land, they could resort to poaching and other vices, he warned.
Those who want to continue growing crops should start water
harvesting projects for irrigation and drill wells away from
rivers, he added.
“Any time the Ewaso Nyiro River dries up in Magadi,
residents say people in Naroosura have taken our share, water is
becoming a scarce resource and soon the Ewaso will be depleted,”
Samuel Gor, a local official with the government’s water
resources management authority, said people downstream on the
Ewaso Nyiro River have borne the brunt of Kenya’s current
drought as farmers intensify irrigation upstream, often using
pumps in secrecy.
“There should be no generator pumps in the rivers - in fact,
we have been confiscating such pumps, especially during this
drought period to protect pastoralists and wildlife downstream,”
Gor and Muriuki stressed that the Mau Forest – the origin of
both the Enkare Narok and Ewaso Nyiro rivers - is under threat
due to massive deforestation and must be protected.
Farmer Naikuni said the forest was losing around 20 trees
per day due to illegal logging, further threatening the
livelihoods of people downstream.
(Reporting by Benson Rioba; editing by Megan Rowling. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
resilience, women's rights, trafficking and property rights.