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© WWF / Simon Rawles
Old dogs, new tricks
New tricks help farmers grow and earn more than ever before – while conserving soil and water.

Joseph Mang’ara doesn’t come across as an “early adopter.” The thin, 75-year-old farmer and his wife, Cecilia, have raised 12 children on a homestead with simple wooden buildings; they cook their meals over an open fire and use hand tools to farm staple crops such as potatoes and maize. But Joseph knows a good idea when he hears it. So, three years ago, he listened closely to a plan that would reward him for changing the way he farms.

In the hills around central Kenya’s Lake Naivasha, decades of deforestation and poor agriculture practices had delivered a double blow to the important freshwater body – both the quality and quantity of water reaching the lake from the upper catchment had declined.

WWF began approaching farmers in 2008 with a plan called payment for environmental services. The idea was to mobilize large-scale freshwater users near the lake – mostly industrial flower farms – to “buy” the conservation efforts of small-scale farmers upstream, like Joseph.

With financial incentives from the private sector and training from WWF, our partner organization CARE and government extension agents, nearly 400 farmers have planted trees, built terraces with soil-retaining grasses, created natural buffer zones alongside riverbanks, switched from chemical to natural fertilizers and increased rainwater harvesting.

While the benefits for Lake Naivasha will take some time to measure, the benefits for Joseph have been almost immediate.

“My yields have increased. We have enough food for the family and we also bought a good heifer that we will breed,” he says. He now has six cows, and reports that milk production has increased due to improved fodder. The grasses used to control erosion are also highly nutritious for livestock.

Cecilia adds, “We can pay school fees for the two children in secondary school by selling grass fodder to other farmers. We had a problem growing enough food before, and we would sell trees from our land to pay school fees. But now we grow more food and sell fodder grass for profit.”

Joseph Mang'ara, 75, with wife Cecilia Muthoni, 60, Upper Catchment, Lake Naivasha, Kenya
© WWF / Simon Rawles

Joseph and Cecilia are enjoying good results from changing what they grow and how they grow it.

John Ole Karia, Maasai farmer and Chairman of the WRUA, Mariba District. Karia is pictured standing ... rel= © WWF / Simon Rawles

“Diversify or die”

John Ole Karia is chairman of a water users’ association that isn’t yet part of the payment for environmental services scheme. But that hasn’t kept this 64-year-old from learning all he can from WWF to improve his farm and his family’s well-being.

John holds his Maasai heritage dear and honors the traditions that have shaped the lives of this pastoralist people for centuries. Today, he combines his respect for his culture with a forward-looking entrepreneurial vision.

He proudly explains how he has bred his Maasai cows with a European variety to get a hearty animal that gives more milk. The cow dung either becomes fertilizer or fuels his bio-gas generator. He has planted fruit trees and aspires to sell organic produce on the international market. With his community group, John is keeping bees and harvesting honey.

“I am unusual for my generation because I went to school,” he says. “When I talk to my six brothers, it’s hard to convince them, but I tell them: diversify or die. Of course, it’s suicide to leave pastoralism without a replacement, so they have to mix in other activities, as I have done. I want to be a model for others.”

John’s diverse activities have increased his income, and have small but important conservation benefits. By constructing a pond and tanks to harvest rainwater, he doesn’t have to use the river to irrigate his crops. Bio-gas reduces his dependence on firewood from nearby forests. Planting fruit trees and fodder grasses help with soil and water retention, and raising bees helps with crop and fruit pollination. And as chairman of a water users’ association, he is well placed to lead by example.

“Looking five years forward, I see more vegetation because we are going to plant trees. Our farms will be more productive because we all be terracing. People will be healthier, especially women and children. We will have cleaner water, available all the time and closer to the people. More children will enroll in school. This is the way forward.”

Hive of activity

The busy homestead of Paul Kariuki Kamondo fairly buzzes with activity. Women and girls wash clothes and dishes, cook, braid each other’s hair, labor over school lessons and tend to babies. Men and boys are tending beehives, chopping firewood and looking after the snow pea crop destined for export. Paul is the father of 16 children, and he has lost count of the grandchildren.

Paul is part of project that has farmers acting as caretakers of land belonging to the Kenyan Forestry Service, and enjoying personal rewards while supporting conservation for their nation.

Roughly a decade ago, the Kenyan Forestry Service logged about 25 hectares adjacent to the Kahuria River. Then the land was left bare. Farmers grazed livestock and took whatever wood remained for their cooking fires. The hilly landscape was prone to erosion, and soon the river became so choked with earth it ran dry part of the year.

The Kahuria River feeds Lake Naivasha, home to a flower industry that accounts for roughly 10 per cent of Kenya’s total foreign exchange revenue – and depends on a reliable supply of clean water. The state of the landscape in the upper catchment along the Kahuria River posed a serious economic, as well as environmental, risk.

The solution was to engage the people closest to the land, who would also benefit from improving the health of the ecosystem. Paul and other members of a community group replanted the zone closest to the river with native trees, with a preference for fruit trees. In return, they were supported to start beekeeping and can use wood removed when the trees are pruned.

Farther from the river, the group is planting tree seedlings that the forestry service may eventually harvest. WWF has provided basic training in plantation management and 20 Kenyan schillings per seedling planted, which, admittedly, isn’t much. The real incentive is the opportunity to farm on this government land until the trees mature. Paul and the others continue to plant staple crops on their own farms, but use the ‘bonus’ land for more profitable snow peas.

“I am grateful for this support. It’s not just for me, or this community. It’s for the country,” says Paul.

A conservation legacy

Joseph, John and Paul have 37 children between them. These are children – many of them parents themselves – who have seen their fathers innovate and adapt, learn and contribute to restore and protect their environment. There have been important personal benefits as well, and that may be the most important legacy of their experience: Conservation doesn’t have to mean sacrifice. In fact, being open to new ways of doing things can help both nature and people thrive.

Paul Kariuki Kamondo surveys his farm. Kamondo belongs to PELIS - Plantation Establishment for ... 
© WWF / Simon Rawles

Paul Kariuki Kamondo says the benefits of conservation will stretch beyond his farm and his community to help the whole nation.

Joseph Mang'ara attends to his cabbages. Mang'ara is a farmer and a Payment for Environmental ... 
© WWF / Simon Rawles

WWF's work in Kenya is demonstrating that conservation can improve livelihoods.